You may remember that a few weeks ago Jordan Castillo Price asked readers to come up with ideas for a PsyCop flash fic by suggesting a single sentence of 20 words or less that included either a color, an odor, or an object smaller than a breadbox. Jordan made her selection but instead of a flash fic around 1K she ended up with a short story. You guys are so lucky because the story is premiering here. The winner whose suggestion inspired this story will receive her reward from Jordan. 🙂
Even though I intended to write a flash fic of 500-1000 words, and even though I chose one of the simplest prompts, this piece sprawled into a 4000-word short story. I’m premiering it here, and eventually I’ll make it available as a downloadable ebook at JCPbooks.com.
Thank you so much to everyone who submitted a story prompt! It was difficult to pick just one. I reveal the prompt I worked from at the end. Can you guess which one it is?
Inside Out A PsyCop Short
By Jordan Castillo Price
A year, four months and eight days before Maurice Taylor retired from the Chicago Police Department…
“Honestly, Jacob. A meeting is a meeting. It’s nothing to get worked up over. Believe me.” Carolyn flipped down the passenger-side visor and gave her subdued peach lipstick a quick check. “Seriously. It’s like watching paint dry. Probably even more tedious than that.”
“But this is a PsyCop meeting—my first one. That’s got to count for something. And if it’s so dull, why’d they keep the Stiffs in the dark for so long?”
“Who knows? Maybe someone in brass just realized it can count toward your continuing education credits so it saves them the expense of paying for a class.”
Jacob reached for the handle to open the car door, but he noticed Carolyn didn’t. He paused.
“Did you talk to Keith?” She asked.
The lie came to him first—I left a message. He’d never considered himself a liar, but the very first conversation he’d had with Carolyn was a real eye-opener. Over the past few months he’d been trying to mend his ways, but it was a work in progress. No doubt everyone lied—to spare people’s feelings, to avoid coming off like jerks. But everyone didn’t work with a telepath.
“He’s still mad,” Jacob chose to say. That was true—and a strong enough assertion to divert Carolyn’s attention from the fact that he hadn’t admitted his reluctance to try to patch things up with Keith. It was over between them—Keith had made it pretty damn clear. He’d hung up his badge, but they still worked out at the same gym. They had the same friends. They were bound to run into each other sooner or later. No sense in being childish about the way things turned out. It was nobody’s fault.
“I’d hate to be in your shoes,” she said. “It’s hard enough to deal with this job, let alone doing it while you’re trying to keep your personal life personal. It’s easier to just tell the truth. If people are going to find something to hate you about, they’ll manage to do it anyway, no matter how you try to paint yourself to satisfy them. But in this case, I don’t think telling the truth is an option.”
“Sarge knows. You know.”
“And I think you’d better leave it at that. Why should it be any of the other cops’ business who you sleep with?”
Jacob waited with his hand on the door. They were in the car together at least an hour a day, sometimes more. Did she really need to analyze the ramifications of being gay and being on the force at that very moment—when Jacob was on the cusp of his first official inter-departmental PsyCop meeting?
Evidently so. She had her phone out and was scrolling through her pictures. “If you’re positive that you’re not going to patch things up with Keith—”
“—then my neighbor knows this guy.”
“You’re trying to set me up?”
“It’s not like that.”
“Really?” She’d said as much, he figured, so she must have believed it was true. “Then what is it like?”
“It’s just…meeting guys on the force is probably not your safest bet. He sent me a picture—take a look before you decide you’re not interested.”
Jacob planted his elbow on the center arm rest and peered down at Carolyn’s phone while she scrolled. “Wait a minute.” He covered her hand with his before she could flip past—because a flash of color caught his eye, and because the sudden tension in her shoulders told him that scrolling past the picture that piqued his curiosity was exactly what she wanted to do.
She shifted her grip and kept scrolling, to a shot of a guy with soul patch and arty tortoise-shell glasses. Handsome enough. If you liked that sort of thing.
“Never mind that, this is Neil. He moved here from Boston last month.”
Jacob supposed he wasn’t going to get his way until he heard her out. “Uh huh.”
“He’s forty two. Just bought a brownstone in Lincoln Square. And he’s a jazz flautist.”
“A jazz flautist.”
“Yeah, I heard you.” Jacob tilted her hand so he could get a look at this Neil character without the glare bouncing off the side-view interfering. Neil half-smiled back at him from a publicity shot. “A jazz flautist. How many different kinds are there?”
“I don’t know. He could be part of an orchestra, I guess. This is one of those snap-judgments of yours, isn’t it?”
Jacob considered lying. Again. Instead of assuring her it wasn’t, he shrugged.
“Isn’t he a good-looking guy?”
“What,” Jacob said, “you can’t tell?”
“By your standards.”
“My homo standards.”
It wasn’t much fun arguing with Carolyn, since she couldn’t exactly defend herself when you nailed her. Jacob sighed and looked more closely at the snapshot. “Neil, the jazz flautist” looked like a smug bastard, was what he looked like. “It’s not that he’s unattractive. He’s just not my type.”
“So you’re attracted to someone more like Keith. More masculine.”
When Jacob tried to take the phone from Carolyn, she held for a moment, then reluctantly released. Jacob scrolled back to the previous photo, and stared. Carolyn herself was in the shot, Carolyn in bright red lipstick—with a bleached-blond guy who looked like he’d just stepped off the set of a music video. He’d stretched out his arm and snapped the shot while they were toasting each other with a margarita at a run-down Mexican restaurant, in a plastic booth Jacob never would have imagined Carolyn sitting down in without wiping it off first. And she didn’t even look awkward with him, like she usually did, with everybody else. She was laughing.
“This guy is hot. Who’s he, your gay neighbor?”
“No, that’s my new stylist.”
She tried to take her phone back, but Jacob held onto it. “Does your new stylist have a name?”
Crash. Jacob could totally see it. He had a neck tattoo—too small to make out what it was supposed to be, but what difference did it make? It was a neck tattoo. “I’d take his phone number.”
“I don’t get it,” Carolyn said. “He’s kind of, uh…swishy. Which probably sounds more insulting than I mean it to be, since I’m crazy about him. But you’re total opposites.” Were they? Jacob could say the same thing about Crash and Carolyn, her with tasteful pearl earrings, him with a silver hoop through his nostril—but look how she sparkled while they were together. He had a broad smile that looked like it got a lot of use. No stuffy half-smiles there. “What’s wrong with Neil?”
“I don’t know.” Was that a lie? Possibly. But maybe it was a nebulous enough lie that Carolyn didn’t need to point it out. “I just don’t like him.”
And that was the truth.
“Neil isn’t your type—but Crash is? Why?”
Jacob caught himself before he denied knowing why, since that wouldn’t have been entirely true, though saying Crash had a gorgeous smile was more information than he wanted to dole out. “Lots of reasons,” he said, one of the ways he answered her without lying, but without really answering, either. A black Crown Victoria pulled up beside them, a pair of female PsyCops from Rush Street, and he added, “We can talk about this later. I want to get a good seat.”
“The clairvoyants are already sitting in them.” It was more a statement than an argument, as Carolyn already had her phone stashed and her most inscrutable designer sunglasses on. They locked the car and walked at an efficient clip to the Twenty First Precinct building, where a squinty-eyed rookie at the door pointed them toward the meeting.
As conference rooms went, the room in the Twenty First was unremarkable—a bit shabbier than the meeting room at the Seventh, but big enough to hold all the PsyCops without rubbing auras. Jacob eyed the other detectives as well as he could without being too obvious. Some, he’d met: Valdez, precog, Midway area…Blaine, clairvoyant, South Loop. Those were the only two he recognized. As for everyone else? He couldn’t tell the Psychs from the Stiffs. Not by simply looking.
Carolyn edged between a pair of bulky middle-aged guys who glanced down at her well-toned glutes as they moved to let her get at the snacks. It was subtle, not quite the type of ogle she would have gotten if she’d walked by a bunch of construction workers—but it was still noticeable. She had that effect on men. Sure, she might be able to read their minds, but as most straight men saw it, she was still a hot blonde. Jacob could hardly find fault with the detectives. They hadn’t been particularly lecherous about their staring…they just couldn’t help themselves. He himself was no better, checking out every other detective he hadn’t met, and wondering if they were a Psych or a Stiff.
Because with something that important, it seemed like you should be able to tell just by looking. Although you usually couldn’t.
Carolyn picked up a banana. She considered how green it was and put it back. When she then reached for a yogurt and found that it was only an empty container, she couldn’t censor the observation, “The food at these things is pathetic.”
A young detective who’d approached from the opposite end of the table lifted a donut out of the box, scattering sugar. He peered at the small hole in the side of the dough, and said, “I know. I can’t even find one decent custard-filled—” as if it heard him complaining about it, the donut disgorged enough strawberry filling to top off an evidence bag straight down the front of his lapel. “Sonofa—” he waved the donut, scattering still more sugar, and now jelly, then dropped the half-squashed pastry in the donut box’s lid. “Swear to God, of all the fucki—” he glanced at Carolyn, “er, sorry….”
Jacob pursed his lips to stop himself from laughing—because, come on. Such an absurd amount of red goo had squirted out of that donut, it looked like there’d been a props master off to the side pumping it out through a special rig.
Then he recognized the detective pressing a wad of napkins into the hand of the jelly-covered detective and realized it wasn’t just any PsyCop who’d been slimed. It was Victor Bayne in the flesh—and his partner, Maurice Taylor, who Jacob had known for years, but not well enough to say more than “How’s it going?” and “Is the guy in custody?” and “How many bullet holes did they find?” And that had been ages ago, when Maurice was a regular plainclothes cop, and Jacob was still in uniform.
Of course Jacob had heard of Taylor’s Psych, the Chicago Police Department’s only medium, but they’d never actually met.
He hadn’t imagined Detective Bayne would be so tall.
Bayne reached for a bottled water, overshot, and knocked it off the table. It landed with a hard thwack between his feet and Carolyn’s, rupturing in a spray of water. “For crying out loud,” he snapped, and knelt to swab Carolyn’s shoes with the handful of napkins he should have used on his own jacket.
“It’s fine,” she said. “It’s only water.” She sounded embarrassed.
If the whole “all-thumbs” act was really an excuse to grope Carolyn’s feet—and get a good look at her legs—it was a very well-executed drop. But when Bayne straightened up, he seemed too flustered to have orchestrated the maneuver. Plus, he backed away from Carolyn like he was an empath on psyactives who couldn’t bear the sting of her annoyance. He’d been in a spot to look right down her blouse. And he hadn’t taken the bait. “I’m really sor—“
“I said it’s fine,” Carolyn snapped. “Stop apologizing.”
Bayne mopped at the front of his blazer with the now-soggy napkins, which began to disintegrate, shred and pill. The napkin shreds stuck in the jelly. He sighed. “Hand me that other water,” he said to Jacob, who held his tie against his abs to stop it from dragging through a splatter of jelly as he reached past the green bananas for a bottle of tepid water. “Thanks.” Bayne took it without making eye contact, then turned back to Taylor and said, “Now I’m gonna be sticky all day, unless we stop at SaverPlus.”
Taylor handed him a larger pile of napkins, and made a noise in reply that didn’t sound like either a yes or a no. Jacob supposed it sounded sympathetic. Maybe a repertoire of ambiguous noises would help him navigate his Carolyn conversations, though he supposed if his ability to make such noises hadn’t developed by now, his chance of spontaneously picking it up was pretty slim.
Before Jacob could say hello to Taylor in hopes of striking up a conversation with him and, by extension, his mysterious but sticky PsyCop partner, a florid guy in a pinstripe suit told everyone to grab a donut and find their seat, since admin wanted to make sure there was enough time for Q&A after the PowerPoint was done.
All the seats with a good view of the door were taken, as Carolyn had predicted. So were the seats by the dubious snacks. Jacob chose one that would normally have gone empty in a room full of cops, the chair that left his back to the door as an irresistible target for any axe-wielding mass murderer who might have slipped by every other cop in the precinct and headed straight for the conference room because their uncanny crazy-guy sense told them there were still a few squashed donuts left.
It just so happened to be the chair across the table from Taylor and Bayne.
The lights went low and a laptop projector with a loud fan flicked on. A piece of clip art appeared on the screen of a man with rays shooting out of his head. Someone really should have come up with some better psychic clip art by now. “The rights and responsibilities of a PsyCop are as close to those of the rest of the force as we can make them. But let’s face it. You’re playing by a different set of rules.” The title Psychic Evidence and the Court System swooshed in over the stock art.
Jacob had hoped the presentation would be a bit less dry. A new psych talent, maybe. Or a twist on the old methodology. Or a roster of all the city’s PsyCops—with precincts. And phone numbers. Because wouldn’t it make sense to share intelligence among themselves? Working with a telepath was nothing like working with an empath, for instance. All Jacob had needed to do with his old partner, Warren, was keep himself on an even keel to make sure his own inner dialog wasn’t read. What might it be like to work with a precog? Or a telekinetic?
Or a medium?
Across the table, Bayne kept fussing over his jacket without even pretending to pay attention to the PowerPoint. Taylor settled back in his chair, sighed, and shut his eyes. Jacob recalled Maurice had never been much of a go-getter. How he’d ended up landing one of the coveted PsyCop positions, Jacob had no idea. Maybe he knew somebody.
Light from the projector glinted off Taylor’s wedding band as he got comfortable by folding his hands over his stomach. Jacob’s eyes went to Bayne’s left hand. No ring. Not that it meant anything; plenty of cops didn’t wear a band on duty. They caught on things like gloves and fences, and could result in some pretty nasty injuries. Everyone on the force knew someone who knew someone who’d lost a finger to an unfortunate wedding band incident.
Although Carolyn wore her ring. She’d said flat-out that it was the uniforms’ job to vault over a chain link fence in pursuit of a suspect, not hers. And she’d said it right in front of Sergeant Owens, who likely would have preferred she phrase it with a little more tact.
Jacob scanned the opposite side of the table. The precog Valdez had been looking at him, but looked away before he could read anything into the glance other than casual curiosity. Bayne’s hand came down on the table. Jacob’s eyes went to it again.
And he’d passed up the opportunity for a high-angle view of Carolyn’s cleavage.
While he didn’t strike Jacob as gay, neither had Keith. Not on duty. It wasn’t until Jacob spotted Keith on the leg press at his gym, a primarily gay gym—glistening with sweat, in a flimsy tank top that was more armhole than fabric—that Jacob realized he wasn’t the only gay cop at his precinct.
But Bayne was probably straight. To hope otherwise would just be wishful thinking on Jacob’s part. He probably just had Keith on his mind, was all, since Carolyn had just asked about him in the car. And the jazz flautist, whatever his name was. And Carolyn’s new hairdresser with the neck tattoo—as well as her question about what his “type” was. As far as Jacob knew, he didn’t have a type. He just knew it when someone rubbed him wrong. Like the jazz flautist.
Bayne scowled at his blazer and picked bits of napkin from his lapel, flicking them onto the floor. Jacob knew he shouldn’t stare. If he got caught, it’d come off as some kind of macho challenge he’d never intended. Even if Bayne might be gay—or at least single, and open-minded enough to experiment—Carolyn was right. It wasn’t safe to date someone on the force. Look what happened with Keith.
The speaker stretched a convoluted explanation on the importance of recording sixth-sensory impressions, no matter how bizarre they might seem, into a mind numbing half hour when five minutes would have sufficed. One of the PsyCops from the Rush Street then asked it if was absolutely necessary for her to capture more than one form of documentation, and pointed out that if she was expected to do more work than her NP colleagues, she saw it as a form of discrimination.
The room turned bluish as the PowerPoint slide changed, and Jacob looked up to find Valdez now staring at Detective Bayne. The precog looked at Jacob again, gave a little flinch, and looked away.
Taylor’s pager went off as the presenter answered her question by repeating a few lines from the presentation that were dull enough the first time around, and the PsyCops from the Twelfth Precinct slipped out of the room, leaving two empty coffee cups, a greenish banana peel, and a few rolled flecks of damp napkin behind. Jacob stared at the spot where Victor Bayne had been sitting, wondering if his seat was still warm.
Bad idea. It’s not like he’s even gay.
But his bad-boy scowl had ignited all sorts of urges within Jacob, where the jazz flautist’s tepid half-smile had definitely not.
A few more questions, then a mandatory evaluation form which nobody filled out with many details, and the PsyCops began filing out in twos and fours. Jacob stood to intercept Valdez as he passed the remains of the donuts. “Jacob Marks,” he said, offering his hand. They’d been introduced before, maybe two years ago, so he figured it couldn’t hurt to remind him. “Seventh Precinct.”
“Oscar Valdez.” He shook Jacob’s hand, but released it quickly. He looked Jacob in the eye, then looked up at the ceiling, then down at a spot on Jacob’s chest.
Jacob glanced down to see if maybe he’d been jellied and hadn’t realized it. Nope. “Carolyn’s the telepath of our team.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ve seen her before. Must be…interesting…spending so much time with someone who can read your mind. A partner like that, they’d know you inside out.”
What an odd thing to say. Especially coming from a precog. “It’s not exactly—”
“Anyway, gotta run. Good to meet you.”
Carolyn approached, holding a green banana she looked none too thrilled with. “He just took off like I insulted his mother,” Jacob told her. “Doesn’t anyone network at these things?”
She steered him toward the door with a subtle shift of her shoulder. “Of course not. We’re Psychs. We’re too awkward to mingle. Especially with each other.”
Jacob held the door for her, and she slipped through and walked briskly toward his car. While Psychs did tend to be incredibly awkward, Jacob was an NP, so he didn’t count; someone should want to talk to him. They got in the car. Jacob fit the key into the ignition, but instead of starting the engine, he said, “I think Valdez saw something…about me. And I think it spooked him.”
“Why do you say that?”
“He wouldn’t look me in the eye. If he saw me winning the lottery or something, I don’t think he would’ve acted so funny. What if he saw me…getting hurt…in the line of duty. What if he saw me getting killed?”
Carolyn thought about it. Most partners would have blithely insisted that everything would be perfectly fine. But instead she said, “I can track him down and ask him. But before I do, you’ll need to decide. If he saw something bad, and there was no way to prevent it—do you really want to know?”
Jacob considered. If Valdez had seen him meet his maker, chances were he didn’t know exactly when the dire deed would occur. A month. A week. A year? It seemed like an awfully inexact amount of time to sustain a high level of panic. Ideally, Jacob would envision himself living every day as if it were his last day on earth. He’d write a big check to the local food bank. He’d skip the gym for just a night and sit on his roof to watch the sunset. And he’d tell all his loved ones how much they meant to him.
But those were things you couldn’t really do every single day, or else you’d end up broke and flabby. And your family would think you’d finally started to crack under the pressure of the job.
“How accurate is Valdez?” he asked.
“Hit or miss. I think he’s level three.”
Jacob started the car and stared down at the steering wheel, working his jaw.
Carolyn went on. “Don’t you think he would have said something if he’d seen you getting injured? I’ll bet it’s something else that he wouldn’t feel professionally obligated to disclose.”
“Something personal, maybe. What was going through your mind during the meeting? Did you think about Neil? Because maybe you’re right, and Neil’s not really a good match for you. And maybe Valdez picked up on something as simple as that.”
Jacob frowned. “How…specific do you think his precog skills are? Like, vague feeling? Or full-on homoerotic imagery?”
“Please tell me you weren’t thinking gay thoughts at work in a room full of certified Psychs.”
“Should I have borrowed a straight brain before I showed up at the meeting?”
“That sounded a lot worse than I meant it. You know what I mean.”
Unfortunately, he did. The middle aged guys who’d been ogling Carolyn’s glutes were probably fine thinking whatever it was they thought, even in the company of precogs and empaths, because people thought things like that about the opposite gender all the time. But given the way Keith had been railroaded out of their precinct…Jacob probably would have been better off not entertaining an extended analysis of the reason Detective Bayne hadn’t snuck a peek down Carolyn’s blouse while he had the chance.
“It wasn’t racy. I was just wondering if maybe Victor Bayne—”
“The skinny guy who just doused himself in jelly?”
Jacob pulled out of the lot and headed back toward the Seventh. “That was pretty wild. It was like…a dozen donuts’ worth of jelly inside.”
He gave an amused sniff, and Carolyn echoed it, then said, “He never says anything at those meetings. That’s the first time he’s ever spoken to me. I don’t think he’s married or anything…but he doesn’t seem….”
“Well…I just think that if he was gay, he wouldn’t have been wearing that awful sportcoat.”
Cliché. But true.
“Besides,” she went on, “I thought we established that it was a very bad idea for you to date guys at work.”
“He’s in a totally different precinct.”
“Jacob. Remember Keith.”
He sighed. “Okay. You’re right. And he’s probably straight anyway.”
“You’re dangerous when you’re single,” Carolyn said as she held up her phone and snapped a quick photo of his profile. “I’ll see if Crash wants me to give you his number.”
This short story was inspired by Emalie’s prompt: The first time Jacob noticed Vic, he was covered in red.
Copyright © 2011 by Jordan Castillo Price – All Rights Reserved
This material may not be copied in whole or in part without the written consent of the author.
Used with the author’s permission.
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