“God save me from this town,” Roman grumbled quietly as he stood by the trolley stop. His clothes were heavy and saturated and leaked whenever he moved; meanwhile rainwater dripped from the end of his beard, which he now realised he had not trimmed since this whole mess started. Like clockwork, was the phrase the paper used to describe the city’s trolley system when it was installed five years ago. Clockwork. Every ten minutes a trolley was supposed to pull into this stop. Roman checked his watch; he had been waiting twenty. He could have run halfway to the newspaper office by now. The street was barren, smarter people were tucked away safely inside the stores and looking out at the rain sorrowfully as they waited for it to end. Unlikely. After months of the hottest heatwave of his life, Roman understood that now the rain had arrived, and it was there to stay for a while. If he was lucky it would be done falling by the same time tomorrow, but his luck seemed absent of late.
Across the road from him, Roman could see another man waiting for the adjacent tram. He had a long blue coat on, and a wide rimmed hat that was drooping downwards, beaten into a slump by the downpour. Yet aside from his hat the man remained mostly dry. He was cramming himself into the doorway of the cobblers to shield himself until his trolley arrived, no doubt planning on sprinting into the red steel box the moment it pulled into his stop. If it ever did. As the man waited, he seemed far more peaceful than Roman. Though he hid from the rain, he seemed less concerned with himself than the newspaper in his hand. He had it open wide on what Roman knew was page eight, from the picture. It was the same picture he had seen earlier that morning, when Otto had rammed the paper into his hands:
“What is this?” Roman asked as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Otto answered him but Roman did not hear, all his focus was on his desk as he quickly scanned it for his coffee mug. Stone cold, but he drank it anyway. As he did, he could not help but glance upwards at the clock that ticked just above him. Five in the morning. “What was that?” Roman asked again.
“We have a leak,” Otto said as he pointed at the picture on the paper. It was the smoking remains of what was once The Lighthouse, the bar just off Abbot’s Street. Top credit to the photographer, Roman thought, they even got one of the body bags in the shot. The picture was not unexpected, it was the first violent crime committed within the city in years, of course people would be interested. But what worried Roman was the look on his partner’s face.
He began reading. At first it was entirely expected – the address and the number of people found inside the building once the dust had cleared. But then things became concerning when they began to list the victims’ names. They had not been released to the public yet. What made Roman rise from his chair was that they listed the name of the police department’s primary suspect, who was evading custody no less.
Roman frantically returned his gaze to the top of the article and read the by-line. Three times. It was written by Charlette White.
“She wouldn’t,” Roman could not help but whisper as he read.
“You know her?” Otto asked, shocked.
“I live with her,” Roman could not help but say; he was too tired to think of anything smarter.
Otto took a step back as his face turned to thunder. “You live with a reporter, and you never thought to mention it. Did you tell her about our suspect?”
Roman’s mind was whirling. It was five in the morning, which meant Charlette had been working through the night again to get the paper out on time. Which also meant she would be getting coffee in the break room for at least the next hour or two before she headed back. He looked out the window and saw the rain, fast and heavy. A few hours at least before she dared stepping out in this.
“Cover for me. Tell Anderson I’m … I don’t know, just make something up,” Roman asked, pleaded, as he shoved the paper back to Otto. His partner protested and spluttered profanities as Roman left him holding the paper by his desk, before moving out the annex and through the bull pen of the police station. He was barely able to stop himself from breaking into a run.
Roman stood with his clothes feeling like heavy bags as he waited for the trolley to arrive. The man across the street was still reading the paper, just like half the city. By lunchtime the name of his suspect would be on everyone’s lips and the police department would be inundated with tips, and false leads. Much worse, people would be looking for him now. Roman and Otto had competition to find their only suspect before some mob ripped him apart.
There was the sound of a bell from up the road. It grew louder as it got closer and the trolley finally pulled in.