(This is the first chapter of the new novel, D.D. Murphry, Secret Policeman, by Elizabeth Massie and Alan M. Clark, published by Raw Dog Screaming Press. Information for purchasing this book can be found at the bottom of this post.)
His Grandmothers Eyes: Case #1
Cover art by Chad Savage
10.30 AM—Wednesday, September 13th
It was an unseasonably warm day, breezy and laced with dust and sweat. D. D. Murphry, Secret Policeman, was waiting for the bus at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Grant Street. He was on his way to the Library.
Kate, he thought. I must see Kate. It has been almost two weeks.
The bus arrived and Murphry climbed aboard and moved to the rear and sat where he could watch everyone. As the bus pulled into traffic, he saw a young man with a pockmarked face flash a small package of what appeared to be crack. It was obviously for the benefit of the blonde woman dressed in black leather sitting on the other side of the aisle. She sat up straight, her eyes widening as she focused on the small packet. A hungry smile brought to life the sullen features of her face.
A drug deal was about to go down, and once again D. D. Murphry, Secret Policeman, was the only witness—the only one who stood between the world of decency and those who would destroy that world with their depravity.
He checked his watch, not because he believed in the steady, inexorable flow of time—he was actually capable of stretching or compressing time for his own purposes—but because it was good procedure. 10:45 AM. He would remember that if asked for a report.
As nonchalantly as possible, he extracted from his wallet one of the many business cards he carried. Armford Brisbain, plumbing specialist. Yes, he thought, I haven’t used this card in a while. He rose to his feet and proceeded up the aisle between the rows of seats, keeping his step springy, ready for anything that might happen as the bus bounded through a series of potholes on Oak Street. By the time the bumpy ride was smoothing out, he was beside the drug dealer. He leaned over, winked at the fellow and handed him the card.
“Perhaps you could use my services,” he offered with a toothy smile.
The young man glared at the card and then at Murphry.
Good, Murphry thought. Now, even if he survives, he’ll never suspect I’m a Secret Policeman.
“What’s this shit?” the young man asked. “You queer or somethin’?”
But Murphry had already turned away. He made his way to the front of the bus as the vehicle picked up speed.
Fred was the driver today. Murphry knew Fred very well, having said to him “Hello,” and “How are you?” and “Nice weather were having,” many times, so what he was about to do would probably be pretty easy to pull off.
I just hope Fred will be able to forgive me.
At the front of the bus, he paused, and looked through the windshield. They were approaching the park. Fred always sped through the long curve beside the park, achieving speeds of up to 43 miles per hour.
Murphry was counting on it.
Just as the bus reached 42 miles per hour, Murphry leaned over and shouted in Fred’s ear, “Boo!”
Fred cried out as Murphry hopped over the railing and into his lap. There was an uproar from the passengers behind him, but Murphry ignored them. He jammed his foot down onto Fred’s foot over the accelerator, and the bus picked up even more speed. Murphry took control of the steering wheel, wrenching it around to the right as hard and fast as he could. The bus tumbled over onto its side and began to slide down the street. Passengers were screaming, glass shattering and metal ripping. Under it all was a powerful and satisfying grinding noise that sounded like the crime being ground off the street itself.
Murphry flew into the aisle. He closed his eyes and went limp, pretended he was drunk and oblivious to the vehicular trauma around him. After all, everyone knew that drunks survived many accidents that kill most others.
A car, its horn blaring, struck the roof and the bus came to rest.
D. D. Murphry, Secret Policeman, opened his eyes. The roof had caved in, trapping and crushing several people. Blood was everywhere. Survivors moaned, or cried out in pain.
Fred, the bus driver, was still strapped into his seat, his eyes bulging and his breathing thin and labored. Looking toward the back of the bus, Murphry could see the fellow with the pockmarked face draped over one of the stainless steel supports, a large gash in his forehead. He could just make out the blonde woman tangled among a groaning pile of other passengers.
No crack for her today, he thought, with satisfaction.
“Sorry, Fred,” Murphry said, but the man didn’t respond. It saddened him to realize he wouldn’t be seeing Fred anymore. Even if Fred survived, Murphry would not be able to ride this bus line in the future for fear of being recognized.
He looked himself over. The drunkenness technique had served him well once again. Not a scratch on him.
Sirens wailed in the distance. He knew he’d better make his escape immediately. Using his elbow, he knocked the remaining sheets of fractured windshield out of his way and stepped out of the bus.
A billboard overhead selling insurance asked him, “Are you sure you have peace of mind?”
This seemed an unusual question. Sure I do. A few innocent people were hurt, but that’s the price of freedom.
But then, suddenly, he realized what the billboard’s question was really about. He had almost forgotten his disguise.
There might be witnesses to the accident who could describe me to the non-secret authorities! I can’t risk being stopped and questioned by the cronies of the False Government. They would not find me out, (I know what I’m doing) but time would be lost. That could mean lives lost!
Quickly, anxiously, Murphry reached into his left back pocket, removed his comb and placed it in his shirt pocket. It’s usually the little things people noticed about you, he thought. He knew that was true from his own observations of people.
What a way to start the week! Murphry thought. Another drug deal had been foiled, and the day was just getting started. Before beginning his career as a Secret Policeman, life had been meaningless and painful. Most of his time was spent on the street. He had been a nobody, stumbling from one inconsequential job to another.
Now life had meaning and it was all so simple. Thinking once again of the process whereby he received his missions and fulfilled his duty, pride bubbled up in Murphry’s heart and gut.
“What a plan!” proclaimed a cell phone advertisement on the side of passing panel truck.
Yes, indeedy! Since no one knows I am a policeman, no one suspects I’ll catch them at their dirty deeds. And since his employer, the True Government, gave him complete autonomy, he wasn’t encumbered, as were the policemen in uniform, those who worked for the False Government.
Since life had not always been so good for Murphry, he was very grateful for what he had. In fact, he thought, life would be just about perfect if it weren’t for the False Government. At the same time he knew that it was his battle against the evils of the False Government, that would, if he applied himself with vigor, ultimately make him lovable. Of course, his beloved Kate had a certain commitment to him, a duty and responsibility. But in order for her to truly love him, he knew he must still prove himself to her.
As the sirens became louder, Murphry made his way through the growing crowd of the curious and onto a side street. He traveled west two blocks to Lincoln and joined the small, shifting group that was waiting at the bus stop there.
As he waited, he overheard two elderly ladies talking about a young man by the name of John. “He’s got his grandmothers eyes,” one of the women said. “They’re green with flecks of paprika.” Then they smiled.
Murphry was outraged. These women looked like sweet grandmotherly types. How could they be delighted by such cruelty?
Murphry’d received information about this crime via e-mail, he realized now, but his knowledge of it was incomplete. Now, at least, he had the name John to associate with the crime.
His heart raced. He wanted to beat the truth out of these brutal witches. It was broad daylight, however, and there would be too many witnesses.
He reached for the stress reliever, a teaspoon, in the right pocket of his wind breaker. He’d discovered the spoon there several days ago, but didn’t know how it had gotten in his pocket. He found that rubbing the ball of his thumb into the cup of the spoon lessened his tension immediately.
He scrutinized the hags, memorizing their features so he might act against them in the future.
In the meantime, he had to find this John. He would recover the stolen eyes and find out who John’s grandmother was, just before he gave the slime ball what he liked to call justice-desserts.
He had just stored away the last details of the two witchs’ features and returned to thinking about his sweet Kate at the Library when the bus arrived. He boarded and took a seat in the rear.
My superiors are doing a good job coordinating for me today.
Days like this, when everything was running like clockwork, he wished he could thank them for their efforts, but to communicate with them was to risk tipping his hand to an evildoer. No, it was best that communication with the True Government remain a one-way business. They contacted him when need be by clever, covert means. He often had to gather fragments, single words, syllables or even one letter at a time, from several sources, to form one message. But his employer knew his mind. They used what they knew to get their ideas and information across without any misunderstanding.
He settled back in his seat and picked up a half-wrapped Twinkie from the seat beside him. It looked good, and he certainly could use the energy a little sugar would provide, but of course, it was likely left there by the False Government and therefore poisoned. He tossed it to the floor and kicked it up the aisle where it was promptly stepped on by a fat old woman who kept moving from one seat to another.
* * *
There she was again—the woman in black—in her long dark overcoat and sunglasses, standing near the entrance to the library. Although he could not see her eyes, he was sure she was watching him intently as he approached the building. Her hidden gaze sent a chill up his back and down his arms. She had been dogging him for the last few weeks. He was certain she was False Government. Who else would employ someone whose sheer existence unnerved him to the core? She’s trying to identify Secret Policemen. She will kill me if she gets the chance. Perhaps she is looking for me specifically, since I am perhaps the most important of all Secret Policemen. He was certain she had identified him at least once, but he’d quickly altered his disquise and evaded her.
He reminded himself that his disguise was in place as he walked up the steps to the library. She can’t recognize me—she is just looking for me, he thought, turning his face away and pretending to admire the gray stonework of the library’s exterior. I must relax so I don’t raise her suspicion. He slowed his step, popped a piece of gum in his mouth, and slowly rolled the gum wrapper into a tight little ball. He felt the woman in black’s gaze upon him. She did not make any move toward him.
There. She thinks I’m just a guy enjoying his Juicy Fruit.
Even so, Murphry knew the woman in black was a problem that would not go away. He would have to find a time and place to take her out before she had the chance to make her move. But not right now, he told himself. I’m in too good a mood to spoil it with violence. To anyone listening to his thoughts this might sound like cowardice, but his mind whispered confidently, All good crime fighters need a worthy adversay. This will be yet another chance to shine in Kate’s eyes.
* * *
Kate gave him a tired, wary look when he entered the library. She was carrying a stack of books. The muscles in her arms stood out proudly. Murphry liked what he saw.
“You again,” she said, loud enough for others nearby to hear. “There are other library branches you could haunt, you know. Ones where they don’t know you as well. I could show you how to get to them.”
Murphry smiled and shook his head slowly as he made his way to the computers. That’s some good acting, he thought.
Kate worked for the True Government as well. Her cover was as librarian here at the downtown branch. She and Murphry had been married in a secret, online ceremony organized by their superiors. Murphry had watched it on one of those celebrity gossip sites as a short movie clip. Of course some celebrities—movie stars, he thought, though he wasn’t really up on that sort of thing—had stood in for Kate and Murphry to help keep it all a secret, but it was a lovely ceremony all the same, and Murphry cherished the memory.
It was all part of the True Government’s program to encourage excellence of performance and to discourage corruption among their employees. They knew he was attracted to her. They knew that if he were paired with Kate they would be provided with invaluable leverage against any possible double dealings on Murphry’s part. How could he possibly be bribed to provide aid to the False Government if he knew his employer always had the one he loved within their easy grasp? He supposed he’d resent this if he didn’t trust his employer to know what was best.
Kate had to treat Murphry rudely whenever she saw him so no one would suspect they were intimate. Truth was they had yet to be truly intimate. Kate was obviously reluctant to risk breaking cover to spend time with him privately—that or she had been instructed not to. He knew she would be more willing to take that risk and incur the wrath of their employer if she truly love him. Sure, she had respect for him as a colleague and she no doubt had profound feelings for him as well, but Murphry knew he had yet to win her deep love and the intimacy that such love implied. He was doing all he could to make that happen. Even if he did not succeed, Murphry was confident that one day his superiors would take pity on him. Perhaps they would even set up a secret conjugal visit or a romantic vacation at some exotic, hidden rendezvous.
Although she most often glowered at him and responded sarcastically when he spoke to her, Kate was capable through the amazing complexity of her voice to simultaneously provide other messages just beneath the evident disdain, a susurrus of endearments and sweet, calming language, expressions of affection, of longing and sorrow for the charade they must endure and an entreaty for him to be patient. He knew he was the only one who could hear these lovely messages.
Everyone else probably thinks she sees me as a crazy street-person.
While Murphry waited for one of the computers to become unoccupied, he gazed at Kate as she moved around the room. She was gorgeous, with her long red hair pulled tight into a bun at the back of her head and her broad, well-padded hips and huge breasts straining at the seams of her clothing. She was what some might call frumpy from outward appearance, but Murphry knew what a delicious body she was hiding in order to maintain her cover.
She noticed him watching her. “Quit staring at me, you weirdo, or I’ll have you thrown out.”
And Murphry was certain that was what everyone heard, but beneath Murphry also heard, “I’m so glad to see you, my husband. Be patient with me, my dear. Like a beautiful Orchid, my love blossoms slowly. I promise that when it is in full flower, the bloom will last and last.”
As she passed nearby with another stack of books, Murphry said sheepishly, “I think we could get away with meeting in the storage closet on the second floor.”
“You keep it up,” she said, fire in her eyes, “and I’ll have you banned from this branch.”
When there was no accompanying secret message, Murphry’s heart took a sickening pause and he swallowed hard. She continued to glare at him for a moment, then slowly turned away. Murphry’s heart was suddenly pounding in his neck.
But then he told himself, It’s okay. It’s all right. She’s just tired. The stress of our work and our unusual relationship has worn down her sense of humor.
This case I’m working on, when I show her what I’ve done to save that poor old woman’s sight, that will cheer her up. That will help prove myself to her.
Murphry’s thumb had become sore. He stopped rubbing the spoon and removed his hand from his pocket. Several minutes passed before his heartbeat resumed a more normal rhythm.
Finally there was a computer free and Murphry sat to do his e-mail. He typed in his password and scanned the spam he’d received, looking for hidden meaning.
The fellow at the computer to his right was muttering under his breath. Murphry made the mistake of glancing over at him and the man turned to him.
“All this fucking junk mail!” the guy hissed. “Can’t they figure out that if I don’t want my penis or breasts enlarged, then I probably don’t want my Peeeeeeeeeenisssssssssss and brrrrrrrreasssssssssts enlarged either? I don’t want to shoot bucket-loads of cuuuuuuuuuum!”
The guy misses the point of all this, Murphry thought. That’s a good thing.
“Some of their ads are filled with paragraphs of nonsense words. Its insane!”
Murphry pressed his lips together hard and nodded his head slowly to simulate sympathetic frustration, then turned back to his work.
When Murphry had first started coming to the library, before Kate had to start treating him so coldly, she had helped him set up his e-mail account. “All this spam is a nuisance,” she said. “The less you give out your e-mail address the less of the stuff you’ll get.” But he knew what Kate was really trying to say to him: This is a way to receive covert messages from your superiors.
Murphry gave his e-mail address out freely on the web and so received a lot of junk mail filled with paragraphs of the nonsense word conglomerations. He transcribed the parts that seemed to have meaning into word processing documents in the sure and certain hope that messages from his superiors would be revealed.
Sure enough, there were always messages waiting for him. In truth they were just partial messages and it took quite a bit of work and intuition on Murphry’s part to pry the relevant fragments out of the nonsense and assemble them coherently. He had to relax and work only with those words and phrases that resonated for him. Slowly but surely, each time he checked his e-mail, he would add to the assemblage until the story of a crime was revealed.
The next step was to recognize that crime in the real world. This could be difficult and frustrating, because the stories he assembled made little sense on the surface. He had to read in between the lines, think of the words as symbols, the suggestions he got from them as surreal dream stuff not to be approached with a rigid frame of mind.
If he did not recognize the events or characters in the story immediately, he had to be patient. Eventually the story would be revealed in truth in the real world. Then he could act against the perpetrator and bring succor to the victim. Thinking of this, he’d always imagined handing out suckers—lollipops—to the those who had suffered at the hands of evildoers. He was certain it would make them feel a little better.
Note to self, Murphry thought. Buy lollipops.
He had begun a new story this week, one that he now knew had to do with the fellow who had stolen his grandmother’s eyes.
The woman at the computer to his left was wearing paisley in which Murphry read the cursive words, “They did not know to keep the truth from you.”
Yes, because those dreadful harpies spoke openly about it this morning, I now have the name of the perpetrator. Perhaps I’ll find another piece of the puzzle to put in place today.
Looking through his e-mails, Murphry found one strange sentence that drew his attention:
“Just because women waterproof doesn’t mean swim.”
He couldn’t say why, but he knew this was relevant. After careful consideration, he made some important changes to the text and put it in place at the end of the story. Murphry could not explain what the message meant—not yet.
Now the crime read like this:
“The one-eyed devil only sees in one direction,” his grandma would say and point out the two eggs embedded in her face. Like her words, they were round sparkling ones that bounced around in their sockets. They were god-peeping and blood-busting alive. He thought the best most people could do was paw at the dirt just inches from her face.
Along with the glossy orbs, Grandma sported six blue and purple sawmill tattoos, and her skink experiments had once saved the toenail industry. Back in the day, a mere glimpse of the bony plates of her wedding gown had caused 1920s megaphone crooners to swallow their own heads. Even when he was raised, she could still fire lap dogs from her armchair at blinding speeds. Spite for this was a waterproof woman who could not actually swim.
This was obviously the beginning of the tale of John and his grandmother’s eye, a terrible crime. Murphry ached to solve it. But he saw no immediate connection between the new text he’d installed and events of which he was currently aware.
Now came his favorite part of the process of creating a coherent story. Having cut and pasted the text to form the narrative of the crime, the margin on the right of his word-processing document was ragged in appearance. He selected the text and then clicked on the command to justify the margins. In an instant all the words lined up on the right to form a straight line, like little soldiers ready for inspection. Such discipline, predictability and unquestioning simplicity.
“This should have special meaning for you,” Murphry gathered from several text sources about the room.
Yes, its so much like my life, before and after, Murphry thought as he left the Library and walked the ten blocks to the Post Office. One day I was a nothing, with little to look forward to but life on the street like some ordinary homeless guy. The next day the message that I was to become a Secret Policeman was inserted into my mind and everything became simple and clearly focused. My purpose in life defined and ensured. Justified.
And then there was Kate.
Yes, he would eventually solve this case. It was just a matter of time. He would recover the stolen eyes and secretly send the precious orbs to Kate so that she could return them to their rightful owner. There would be no return address on the package, but she would know who they were from. Murphry kept mementos of his cases in a World-War-II amunition box stored in a locker at the bus station, but over time he had sent Kate several of these trophies from the cases he solved. With such glowing evidence of his exploits to impress her, he was sure he could eventually soften her heart and win her love.
We will be happy soon. I will make sure of that.
As he entered the Post Office, he thought again of the woman in black and his swelling pride shrunk a bit. I’ll have to deal with her too, he told himself.
Murphry got out his key and opened his P.O. box and pulled out a single envelope. It was his paycheck. How clever his employer was to make it appear to be a Social Security Disability check. It bothered him that it was always for such a small amount, but then a big Disability check might raise the suspicions of a teller at his bank.
Oh well. Pride in one’s work is what’s important, now isn’t it?
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