But really this opening seemed too long and while it introduces a lot of important things, it's too slow for the opening. I decided in the end it was better to just start with Emma at the museum and get to the point.
Though she usually managed about six hours of sleep, tonight Emma Earl couldn’t sleep at all. For nearly seventeen years she had dreamed of this moment. She had pushed herself relentlessly to make that dream into a reality, enduring countless nights with even less sleep than this so that she could finally make it happen. Now that it was almost here, time seemed to slow down, to the point where the luminous hands on the clock’s dial seemed to be going backwards.
She had long since outgrown the need to sleep with stuffed toys or dolls, but on this night she cuddled up with the personnel manual they had given her. The front façade of the building with its Greek columns and marble steps decorated the cover. Beneath this in gold were the words “Plaine Museum of Natural History.”
In just a few short hours she would be working there. Dr. Emma Earl now, a junior researcher in the geology department. She had made it—or she would in just a few short hours. She stroked the front cover of the manual again and smiled into the darkness. “I made it.” She addressed this to her parents, neither of whom would be around to see her finally walk up those marble steps as an employee instead of as a visitor.
Despite the nervous butterflies rampaging in her stomach, she finally did fall asleep around three in the morning. She awoke to someone shaking her shoulder. “It’s not time for class yet,” she mumbled.
“Emma, wake up. It’s time to go.”
Emma recognized this voice as not belonging to her roommate at Berkeley, or for Northwestern for that matter. No, this was the voice of her best friend ever since kindergarten. She opened her eyes and saw Becky standing there, smiling down at her, already dressed for her job in a black skirt and white blouse.
“Come on, kid, get moving,” Becky said. “You don’t want to be late for your first day, do you?”
“No,” Emma said. She felt the manual beside her and couldn’t hold back a smile. “I definitely don’t want that.”
“Then you better get going.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Emma said. She had missed Becky’s mothering ever since she’d gone off to college. They had talked on the phone and through letters whenever they could, but it hadn’t been the same.
As soon as she heard back from the Plaine Museum about the job, she called Becky’s apartment to tell her. “That’s great,” Becky had said. “You think about a place to live yet?”
“Not really.” There was the house in Parkdale that ostensibly still belonged to her. It had sat on the market for six years now, since she’d gone to college and Aunt Gladys had gone into the nursing home.
“Well, it just so happens that I have a vacancy,” Becky said.
“I thought you had a roommate.”
“Yes, and she ran off to Brazil with her boyfriend. So you’d be doing me a favor by picking up the slack.”
Emma had needed about three seconds to think this over. She and Becky had often talked about living together once they graduated school and started life on their own. In their earliest discussions, this would last only until they each found a handsome prince to marry them, but that didn’t seem very likely at the moment.
After taking a quick shower, Emma stood in front of the mirror, trying to decide what to do with her hair. She tried a ponytail first, but this looked too juvenile. A headband or bow would look even more childish. She wanted to look like a grownup today, like a PhD instead of the little girl who’d used to visit the museum. She finally settled on putting it up and holding it back with a clasp.
Becky had thoughtfully already laid out Emma’s turquoise suit, the same one she’d worn to the first interview. Putting this on, Emma again turned to the mirror. The nervous butterflies gnawed at her stomach again as she did so. Even with her hair up and the suit she didn’t feel any different. She didn’t feel more sophisticated or wiser.
“Emma? You all right in there?” Becky asked.
“I’m fine,” Emma said. She took the manual from the bed and then opened the door.
Becky smiled at her. “You look great, kid. Like a real doctor.”
“You think so?”
“I know so. Come on, I’ll buy you breakfast, Dr. Earl.”
Emma found her purse waiting on the kitchen counter. There wasn’t much in there, just a tube of lipstick, a compact, a tampon she prayed she wouldn’t need today, and her keys. The keys had belonged to Becky’s former roommate, the one whose bed Emma now slept in. Becky had yet to hear back from the girl about whether she wanted her stuff back or not.
The elevator was broken—Becky said it hadn’t worked the three years she’d lived here and doubted that it had worked since the 19th Century—so they had to walk down the five flights of stairs to the ground floor. Emma lagged behind a step, taking a deep breath. Then she stepped out onto the sidewalk.
Becky’s apartment was in the neighborhood affectionately known as the Trenches. Like the elevator in the building, once it might have been prosperous, but now it was a broken-down shell. The apartment buildings—slums, really—had graffiti of all sorts decorating the walls. The cars along the sidewalk were mostly rusty hulks, the only kind that wouldn’t be torn down for parts.
At this time of the morning, most of the people they passed were dressed in uniforms for retail stores, fast food joints, car repair shops, or hotels. Emma and Becky seemed to be the only ones wearing business attire, which momentarily gave her pause. Becky had said the neighborhood was perfectly safe so long as you minded your business, didn’t go out after midnight, and carried a can of mace in your purse.
They waited with a group of other people, most of them much older than Emma or Becky, for the bus. At least until she got her first check from the Plaine Museum, Emma didn’t have much in the way of money, not enough for luxuries like cabs. She and Becky sat near the front of the bus, Emma taking the window seat. She hadn’t seen much of this part of the city, having spent the majority of her life in Parkdale and then later in Illinois and California. Rampart City was certainly a lot different from any of these, with its own brand of grungy charm. The butterflies began again as she thought that each mile they went brought her closer to the Plaine Museum.
They got off in downtown, about two blocks from the museum. Emma could see Executive Plaza, the pedestrian mall surrounded by some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, including Robinson Tower, which at one point had been the tallest in the world. She couldn’t see the top of the tower this morning, clouds obscuring her view. She continued to gape like a tourist until Becky pulled her away.
They went into a coffee shop, sitting in a booth near the front window so that Emma could still see Executive Plaza. She was watching the throngs of people going to work in those towers when the waitress showed up for their orders. The waitress was probably younger than Emma, possibly not more than sixteen, with black hair obscuring most of her face, except for one brown eye. The tag on her left breast gave her name as Marie. “Can I take your order?” Marie asked in almost a whisper.
“I’ll have the scrambled eggs, bacon, and a side of toast with a coffee—black. What about you, Emma?”
“Me? Oh, I’m not really hungry.”
“You have to eat something. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
Emma could have quoted some scientific studies to dispute this, but then again she could also quote some to back it up. “I’ll just have a piece of toast. And some tea.”
“Warm or cold?” Marie asked.
“Hot,” Emma said. “Do you have any Earl Gray?”
“I’m not sure.”
“It’s not important,” Emma said.
Marie shuffled off, leaving Emma and Becky alone again. “It’s probably just tap water,” Becky said.
“I hope not.”
Becky changed the subject by asking, “So, you excited for the big day?”
“What is it exactly you’re going to be doing?”
“Studying meteors. The Plaine Museum has one of the largest collections in the world.”
“So you’re going to be staring at space junk all day?”
“You could say that.” Emma could have launched into a speech about how important meteors were to studying the universe, but she didn’t. For one she was too nervous and for another she knew Becky didn’t want to hear it. Becky had only passed her science classes in high school because Emma tutored her over the phone. “How are things going with the campaign?” she asked instead.
“The latest polls say he’s down by twenty points. With less than three months to go, he might as well throw in the towel.”
“Are you going to quit?”
“Me? Hell no. I need the credits too much for that. I’ll just ride the bomb all the way down to the ground.”
This didn’t seem like a good attitude for someone who worked for the Lintner campaign to say, but Becky had always been the more cynical one, not without good reason. “How are your sisters doing?”
“Britney’s got a new boyfriend. A race car driver.” Becky stopped to roll her eyes. “Brandi and Bambi are still in the trailer. There’ll probably be a story on the news any day now about a homicide there. The only question will be which one does it first.”
Emma’s face paled at this, as she thought of that other homicide eleven years ago. She was grateful when Marie returned with her tea and toast. “Thank you.”
“It’ll be just a minute longer for your eggs,” Marie said.
“Why, are you still hatching them?”
Marie’s lip trembled as if she were about to cry. She brushed the hair out of her face to reveal her other eye, this one a pale blue. That eye seemed to fix on Becky of its own will. “Your mother used to lock you in the furnace closet when you were bad,” Marie whispered.
It was Becky’s turn for her face to pale. “What are you talking about?”
Marie brushed the hair back over that pale eye and with the other looked down at the floor. “I’m sorry. I’ll get your food.”
Becky watched the girl leave and then said, “What the hell was that? How did she know about that?”
“I don’t know,” Emma said. In truth she didn’t have any idea how a waitress they had never met before could know something Becky had only ever told Emma before.
“She gives me the creeps.”
Despite this, Becky ate all of her breakfast. Another waitress brought the food out, claiming that Marie had felt ill. The waitress set the plate down close enough that the edge of it bumped against Becky’s stomach, which overlapped the side of the table. “Is there anything else I can bring you?”
“Just the check.”
While Becky dug into her food, Emma nibbled at her toast, still unable to eat much. She opened the personnel manual, idly reading over some of the museum’s policies like the dress code and employee benefits. She had already memorized these, but it gave her something to keep her mind off her nervousness or that strange encounter with Marie.
“Well,” Becky said as she finished the last bite of her eggs, “we’d better get going.”
Becky paid the check, ignoring Emma’s insistence that she contribute something for the tea and the toast she’d barely touched. Outside, Becky surprised Emma with a hug. “I know you’re going to knock them dead, kid,” she said.
“You sure you don’t want me to go with you?”
“I can make it on my own.”
Becky smiled at this. “Yeah, sometimes I forget you’re not a kindergartner anymore. You just be careful. Don’t go off with any strangers offering you candy, young lady.”
Emma laughed slightly at this. “I won’t.”
Becky gave her another hug and then waddled into traffic, heading across the mall to Lintner’s campaign headquarters. Emma stood there on the sidewalk for a moment, alone in a crowd of strangers. Then she turned and went off to her dream job.
Mornings for normal people were late nights for Detective Lottie Donovan. She usually crawled into bed around six in the morning, if at all. She worked nights by choice; that was when all the scum in this city came out to play, when the bodies were still fresh. This morning would be the type where she never got to bed, which meant she needed to stop off for some coffee, something a little better than the sludge the department served.
Across from her sat Officer Lois Early, Donovan’s oldest friend from back when they went to the academy together. Donovan had fought her way up the ladder to detective sergeant while Early seemed content with being a simple beat cop, collaring the junkies and johns roaming the streets at night. So it came as no surprise when Early said, “You look tired. When was the last time you got some sleep?”
“I don’t know. Last Tuesday maybe.” Donovan reached into her pocket for a cigarette until she caught Early’s look. Officer Early had kicked the habit when she’d given birth to her first kid. That had been five years ago and ever since she’d asked Donovan not to smoke in front of her, lest she take up the habit again.
“Have you ever thought of taking a day off?”
Donovan smirked at this. “What would I do then?”
“I don’t know, relax. Watch some TV. Get a massage.”
“Sure, and meanwhile Vendetta’s thugs go right on tossing people into the harbor.” Such an occurrence had accounted for her late night. She had spent three weeks trying to turn one of Don Vendetta’s flunkies, to finally get the goods on Rampart City’s top gangster. Then last night she got the call that the flunky had turned up in the harbor, wearing a pair of cement shoes. “I’m never going to get anyone to talk now.”
“You’ll find a way to bring her in. You just have to be patient.”
“Yeah, right,” Donovan snarled. She had been trying for the last ten years to get something on Don Vendetta, but the snake kept slithering away, disappearing down one hole or another.
Early rubbed the crucifix around her neck. “You need to have faith.”
Donovan only snorted at this and then took a gulp of her coffee. How Early could work in a city this full of crime and corruption and still believe in God, Donovan had no idea. Then again Early’s parents had been devout while Donovan’s mother couldn’t be bothered to get up before noon on Sundays. Still, by now Early should have realized there was no divine plan, only random, chaotic madness.
“You keep this up, Lottie, and you’re going to be floating in the harbor. And maybe not by one of the don’s goons.”
“You been hearing something?”
“Nothing specific. Just the general grumbling.” Early reached across the table to pat Donovan’s arm. “They don’t like you showing them up all the time.”
“Then maybe they should stop taking her dirty money and do their fucking jobs.”
“Come on, Lois, you really think I can just kick back and take it easy?”
“You could try.”
“Yeah, well, I’ll think about it,” Donovan said, though she had no plans to do anything of the sort. She’d worked her ass off to get out of the slums and become a detective and she wasn’t about to stop now.
Across the diner, she spotted two young women at the counter. One was enormously fat with dark hair and an angry expression. Her companion caught Donovan’s attention more. The girl was tall and almost unhealthily thin, with red hair and glasses. It was the girl’s face, though, that caught Donovan’s attention. You didn’t get to be an organized crime detective on the Rampart City police force by being a bad judge of character. From the girl’s innocent, earnest expression, Donovan knew this was a newcomer to the big city.
“We got a newbie over there at the counter,” she said to Early. Early turned slightly and nodded. This was a game they had developed over these cups of coffee. Donovan could usually pick out the ones working for Don Vendetta too; many of these she would see later when she came around to bust one of the don’s business ventures.
“She looks sweet,” Early said.
“Probably just got off the bus this morning from Nebraska or Iowa or some godforsaken place like that. Going to make all her dreams come true now in the big city.” Donovan snorted, knowing what usually became of girls like that. Those who didn’t turn to prostitution or wound up lying facedown in a pool of their own blood would eventually get on a bus to go back home to Ma and Pa on the farm.
“I hate to say it, but you’re probably right,” Early said. She finished her cup of coffee, but Donovan beat her to grabbing the bill. “You could let me pay just once.”
“Save your money for your kids.”
“That reminds me, we’re going to have a barbecue for Labor Day. If you ever want to take some time off, you’re welcome to come.”
“Thanks, but I’d just get in the way.” She had never seen Early’s house in the old neighborhood, nor did she have any desire to do so. She didn’t want Early’s kids to start calling her Aunt Lottie or any bullshit like that. These occasional coffee dates were enough for her.
The redhead and her friend were gone by the time Donovan got up to the counter to pay. She supposed she would probably see the girl before long in a news report—or a jail cell. That was life in the big city.