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Tonight, and Forever
by Branden Szabo and the Parabellum Press
“You shouldn’t treat her like she’s an adult, boss.”
Detective Roger Sullivan looked away from a collection of crime scene photos featuring an unfortunate hooker who’d been shot in the chest.
“Excuse me?” he asked the rookie cop who dared to break his concentration.
“I said you shouldn’t treat that partner of yours like she’s an adult. It’s like asking for trouble.”
He was referring to Anabelle, the orphan girl who found her way into the police station last year. Sullivan was still trying to locate her parents but it was a good bet they were long gone; the recession was hurting everyone and everyone was looking for ways to lighten their financial load, so to speak.
Anabelle was only thirteen but she had an astounding amount of pride, life may have beaten her down but she still walked with her head held high. She was pixie-like with messy blond hair and a brain built like a computer. She could remember details that even an old detective like Sullivan couldn’t.
Most of the stray kids he happened upon were doomed to live in foster homes but he pulled some strings to let her stay in the police station. He cleaned out the storage closet above his office and tossed in a futon, it was no downtown penthouse but at least she was safe. Thus began their unusual partnership.
Anabelle’s interest in crime was a gradual evolution. She’d make a few comments here and there, tell a suspect he was lying and then return to her room. If Sullivan wanted her opinion, he’d just knock on his ceiling with a broom. Pretty soon he didn’t even need to do that, she just magically knew when she was needed. The other cops had mixed feelings about the whole arrangement but the way Sullivan saw it, she was putting bad guys behind bars. Wasn’t that all that mattered? And she did it all with a self-depreciating smile.
Sullivan rubbed his tired eyes, it was going to be another late night. A murderer was on the loose and the media was screaming for answers. In truth, he hated the case. He hated the attention and he hated the workload.
“Your opinion has been duly noted,” he told the rookie. “And discarded.”
Anabelle was back in his office going over witness statements with a cup of coffee. She wore a turtleneck sweater and a beige overcoat that made her look very smart, just like a real cop.
“How’s my junior sleuth doing?” he asked her.
She paused suddenly but recovered with a shrug. “I’m hanging in there. How about you? Going home for the night?”
“Yeah, I wish.” He raked his fingers through his greasy mane of hair and realized how badly he needed a shower. “Mack’s story is BS. He was obsessed with our vic - called her ten times a day, there’s no way he broke that habit overnight.”
“I agree,” Anabelle said. She balanced her chair on its back legs, thinking. “The last time we spoke to him, he told us he was out of the country when the murder occurred but I got a look at his travel planner. That whole week was booked with business meetings right here in the city.”
“That’s all kinds of suspicious.”
“We can pull his travel records and prove he never left but that’ll take time. Up for another long night?”
Truth be told, Sullivan wanted to spend the evening with a certain lady-friend he’d been courting. He quickly scratched the idea, he already had to cancel three dates with her thanks to this damn case, the relationship was most certainly over by now.
“Why not?” he asked the air. “I’ll order us some grub.”
“Already taken care off, I got us sandwiches from Tony’s Place. Don’t worry, I asked for no olives on yours.”
It was nice to know her impeccable memory had practical uses as well as professional ones.
Sullivan’s phone rang before he could get anything started. How surprised he was to hear a woman’s voice on the other end.
“I’ll give you one more chance,” said Prissy Kyle in a commanding tone. “If you want this relationship to work, meet me at the Azure Club in fifteen minutes. I’ll be wearing that teal dress you love.”
She hung up before he could say anything. Damn it, he thought, he had assumed things were kaput but now she was inviting him to the most romantic spot in town. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up, he grabbed his coat.
“Hold down the fort for a few minutes, I’ll be right back. I have to, uh, pick something up.”
She blinked. “Um, okay … don’t be too long, I think we can finally crack this case.”
“I’ll contact the DA.”
“And I’ll get those travel records.”
“Yes, yes, whatever!”
He was out the door in a flash.
The Azure Club’s dress code was too chic for a man of Sullivan’s income so he flashed his badge to get in.
Prissy was tapping her fingernails against a table in the corner. Her hair was wrapped into a tight bun skewered with a silver hairpin. She wore a body-hugging designer dress with enough sequins to blind a man three blocks away.
“My daddy said you wouldn’t show,” she said with an evil smirk.
Sullivan scooted in beside her. “Your daddy is a criminal defense lawyer, he’s made a lot of mistakes in life.” He kissed her. “Miss me, babe?”
“Every day, sweetie. I just get so frustrated with your schedule.”
She crossed her legs. Her thighs nearly split her dress. “So. How is work? Making any progress on the murder? Can’t turn on the television without hearing about it.”
He licked his teeth, indecisive. Talking shop always upset her. “Don’t worry your pretty little head about work, I’ve got someone to share the burden with now. In fact, things are so manageable we’ll be seeing more of each other from now on.”
The news was music to her ears. “That’s a good boy. Did they finally give you an assistant or something?”
Sullivan considered Anabelle more than just an assistant but he feigned arrogance to impress her. “Yeah, she’s just like an assistant … one the department doesn’t have to pay, ha, ha!”
He stopped laughing. Only because everyone in the restaurant had stopped talking. They were all gawking at a young girl standing by his table like an angry sentry.
Anabelle gritted her teeth, appalled by what she’d heard. She was wearing a mermaid style evening dress that made her look twice her age. A slit in her skirt showed her legs, they were covered in shaving cuts and band-aids.
“I traced the call you got. It led me here,” she said.
Prissy whispered through her teeth, “Honey? Who is this kid?”
Anabelle’s sad eyes glistened with disbelief. “You lied to me. All this time you’ve been with someone else.”
Low whispers of confusion and disapproval rose from nearby spectators.
“N-No, this isn’t what it looks like,” Sullivan told everyone. He grabbed Anabelle’s shoulders. “Calm down, just go back to the police station and I’ll explain everything later.”
She broke away and stabbed a finger at Prissy. “Who’s this old woman, anyway?”
“Old woman!?” Prissy stood up. “Who do you think you are? Get lost, little girl.”
Anabelle paused, just like before. Her lips curled. “I’m not a little girl. Roger and I solve crimes together and keep this city safe for hussies like you.”
“Oh, ho, ho,” Prissy laughed, haughty. “Roger? You call him by his first name? What an adorable fantasy you’ve created for yourself.”
“It’s not a fantasy, I’m his partner.” She placed a hand on her collarbone like she was an actress addressing an audience. “I love him. I love him and I’d do anything for him.”
Whispers of disapproval turned into gasps of outrage. Judging eyes fell over Sullivan, scorning him and humiliating him.
He couldn’t take it anymore. “Stop it Anabelle, for Christ’s sake, shut the hell up! Do you have any idea what this looks like?”
The situation got the better of Anabelle, she put her face in her hands and wept in front of everyone, completing the disaster. Even the waiters stopped to watch.
There was no point in trying to salvage things, not after this. He snatched her wrist and dragged her away from prying eyes and quite possibly the worst date of his life.
“Do you have any idea what that looked like in there?” he asked her outside. “Hey! Answer me.”
“Stop yelling at me,” she sobbed.
He wanted to do more than yell but he restrained himself. His temper faded as he de-compressed under the flickering light of a street lamp. Cars ambled by, breaking the silence now and again. Anabelle seemed so mature and level-headed back at the station, what had changed?
He patted her on the head and forced a laugh. “I’m sorry I yelled at you. We’re both on edge because of this case and … well, what you said back there really freaked me out, you know? I mean, come on.”
Anabelle pressed her palms into her wet eyes. She wrapped her arms around his waist. “I’m sorry I ruined you evening. It’s just that … today is such a special day for us.”
Sullivan clicked his tongue, confused. “Today? What about today?”
“Today is the twenty-first: the day you rescued me. Shouldn’t it be special?”
Sullivan wasn’t laughing anymore. He shoved her away like she was plutonium. “Shit, you really are in love with me, aren’t you?”
“How could I not be in love with you when you’re so nice to me, Roger?”
The words made him feel sick. If this ever got out, his career would be over, he’d look worse than the murderer he was chasing.
She went on, “You took care of me, you gave me a place to stay. You gave my life meaning.”
“Jesus, Anabelle, I’m more than twice your age! Good God – are you serious!? That does it, I want you out of here. I’m putting you in a foster home tomorrow, end of story.”
She reached out for him, desperate. “B-But I did everything for you!”
Sullivan briskly walked away from her and reached into his jacket for a much-needed smoke. He stopped, something was missing.
Anabelle threatened him with his own gun. Her eyes were empty, lifeless. Sullivan knew these eyes well, they were the eyes of a true murderer.
“I even gave you the biggest case of your career,” she whimpered.
Sullivan swallowed and wished he’d listened to that rookie’s advice. One way or another, she’d be with him forever.
Thank you for reading.
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