Today, Alicia interpreted “flash fiction” loosely… in her own words: “Late and over the word count is my MO.” So, without further ado, Alicia’s 3000+ word response to the prompt, “Your character has just moved to a new city. Where do they go first?
Dress for the Job You Want
by Alicia Haniford
The suitcase sitting on the pristine hotel bed was the same shade of navy blue as Raf’s suitcase. It was the same convenient carry-on size as Raf’s suitcase. It had the same generic red luggage tag as Raf’s suitcase, and the same Air Byzantium check-in tag as Raf’s suitcase, and the same cheap, dysfunctional telescoping handle as Raf’s suitcase. But it was not Raf’s suitcase.
At least, Raf was fairly certain. For one thing, the zipper for the inconveniently small pouch on the front of the suitcase still zipped shut (although the stitching had started to fray), whereas the zipper on the front of Raf’s suitcase had broken approximately fifteen minutes after he bought the suitcase five years ago.
For another, the suitcase contained two (2) sports bras and six (6) pairs of women’s underwear. Whereas—and Raf was fairly confident in the accuracy of his recollection on this point—Raf remember packing approximately zero (0) sports bras and zero (0) pairs of women’s underwear.
The suitcase also contained a Ventura City Police Department (Thaumaturgical Investigations Division) special corporal’s uniform (1 pair standard issue black pants, size six; 1 standard issue red tie, no size; 3 standard issue white button-down shirts, size women’s medium), a modest blue cocktail dress, a pair of high heels, an iridescent purple cosmetic bag (contents unknown), a phone charger, a box of tampons, and a paperback novel intriguingly titled Hamster Diplomat: Death Renaissance by one Radeluca D. Rydeman.
Raf flipped the suitcase shut, glanced around the bland hotel room, stared at the closed suitcase, and then flipped it back open again, as if the contents might have seized the moment of privacy to miraculously transmute themselves into something more appropriate for a broad-chested thirty-five-year-old man whose style had once been aptly been described by a colleague as blander than a hardboiled egg (unseasoned).
When a miraculous transmutation failed to occur, Raf dug his phone out of his pocket and dialed Special Cpl. Moira Ramirez, who picked up on the fourth ring.
“Levitsky!” she said. He could barely make her out over the ambient roar of the crowd in the background, punctuated by the cool, tinny voice of an airport employee announcing a flight delay. “My dude! What’s up? How’s New Constantinople? Busted any big-city bad guys yet?”
“No, we just got to the hotel,” said Raf. “Moira, I think I have your suitcase.”
“Wha-a-a-at? But I’ve got my—oh. Oh shit. How the hell—ah, shit, you know what? In the cab. We must’ve swapped when we took them out of the trunk.” Moira and Therese’s flight to Castile-du-Leon had been scheduled to depart a half-hour after Raf and Maddock’s to New Constantinople, so they’d all brought their bags to work and split a cab from the station. At the time, it had seemed very economical. “Damn. What a mess. You could borrow something from Maddock?”
“From Maddock,” Raf repeated. His work experience exchange partner was a good two feet shorter than him and nearly a hundred pounds lighter, probably because, as far as Raf could tell, he lived off necrotic energy and canned tomato soup.
“Ah… yeah, maybe not. Well, look, my uniform might fit you. You’re not that much bigger. I mean, don’t wear my underwear. But give the rest a try. I’m going through customs, okay? Let me know how it goes.”
Raf checked his watch, which informed him that it was now 8:47 p.m. Byzantine Standard Time. He and Special Cpl. Maddock Shadowstalker, whose room was across the hall, weren’t supposed to meet their counterparts in the New Constantinople Police Department until the next morning; Maddock was probably lounging on his own hotel bed right now, performing occult necromantic rituals or posting salacious selfies to his gothic Instagram, or whatever demons did for fun. Raf had some time.
He laid Moira’s uniform out on the bed, taking care not to crease it any more than its time crumpled in the suitcase had already done—Moira was many things, but neat was not one of them. Because Raf had certain standards, he unfolded the hotel ironing board and smoothed out all the wrinkles, after which he placed the uniform back on the bed and surveyed it again. It was identical to his own, and Moira was right; the two of them were close to the same size. A few inches here and there couldn’t make much difference.
He peeled off his civilian clothes, which he folded and set to the side, and put on Moira’s uniform. An unwelcome sense of foreboding settled deep into his bones as he struggled with the buttons, but he pushed it away. Then he made the mistake of looking in the mirror, and immediately revised his opinion. A few inches here and there made an incomprehensible difference. But—maybe he just was being self-conscious because he, personally, could feel the shirt stretching over his chest and the pants on the brink of tearing if he bent down too far. Maybe the tautness of the buttons wouldn’t be so obvious to the casual observer.
It’s a little tight, he texted Moira.
like. network television creative license tight or bachelorette strip-o-gram costume tight?? Moira replied. send pics.
Raf complied, though he clapped a hand over his eyes as he snapped the picture so he wouldn’t have to confront himself in the mirror.
The first text Moira sent in response was highly inappropriate, a fact of which Raf immediately informed her.
lol, was her response, followed by, u kno u could take down so many more bad guys if u dressed like that every day!!
im kidding tho it’s not that bad, she texted a moment later, and then: go get em tiger, NCPD won’t kno what hit em!!!
Clearly this had been a terrible idea. Before he had a chance to remove the offending uniform, however, someone knocked at his door.
“Hey, we—wuh.” Maddock’s black eyes nearly bugged out of his head as he was confronted with the straining buttons of the too-small shirt right at face level. He blinked. Then he snorted. “Well, hell. You’ll fit right in.”
“I beg your pardon?” Raf said stiffly. Raf didn’t really like Maddock in the best of circumstances; Maddock was a competent police officer, but he was also sarcastic, and his tie always looked rumpled, and he had an annoying habit of calling Raf gramps all the time, even though Raf was technically five-hundred-and-forty-seven years younger than Maddock. And, Raf found, he especially didn’t like Maddock when he, Raf, was wearing an embarrassingly tight uniform, while Maddock was toying with his phone in a way that suggested he was on the verge of snapping a picture to send to everyone on their team.
“Sergeant Stratiotica just called,” said Maddock, still smirking. “Said the NCPD have a lead on some interplanar smuggling case they’ve been working for months. Some unstable wacko warlock’s been punching through the space-time continuum to move knock-off designer goods—handbags and stuff. Stratiotica thought we should get in on it.”
“Alright. I’ll just—”
Raf tried to close the door, but Maddock was faster, his hand whipping out to grab the edge of the door frame and shoving it back open. “No time, Levitsky. They’re moving on this fast.”
The taxi ride was uncomfortable, in part because Raf spent the entire time fearing for the integrity of his pants, but also because the minute their car accelerated into the street, Maddock pulled out one of his horrible clove cigarettes and lit up. Raf opened his mouth to remind Maddock about the cultural courtesy guidelines their superintendent had outlined in yesterday’s briefing as a cloud of foul-smelling smoke filled the car, but Maddock beat him to it.
“We’re in the Empire, gramps,” said Maddock, blowing a puff of smoke right into Raf’s face. “No one cares.”
“Hey, hey,” said their taxi driver, a woman totally covered in shiny green scales. Her reptilian eyes glared dolefully at them in her rear-view mirror, and for a moment Raf thought he would have the satisfaction of hearing her chew Maddock out. Then she extended a clawed, scaly hand backwards and said, “Got one to ssssssspare?”
“How rude of me. ‘Course, darling,” said Maddock, and, to Raf’s dismay, he produced a second cigarette, which their driver lit with a tiny puff of fire from her nostrils.
The address Maddock had given their driver was in a part of town reminiscent of certain districts in Ventura City that Raf only ever frequented when he was on night patrol. The streets were packed with people wearing clothing that was entirely unsuited to the cool spring night, all crowding around buildings that blasted loud music and flashed with neon lights. A gaggle of girls in impractically short skirts staggered past on the sidewalk, none of them making any effort to conceal the three open bottles of wine they were passing back and forth amongst themselves; Raf’s fingers twitched at his side, itching to write them all up for drinking in public, but he had carefully reviewed the federal, state, and municipal laws and bylaws applicable to the area before the trip, and he knew New Constantinople allowed open-carry, ill-advised though it seemed to him.
The taxi pulled up outside one of the indistinguishable nightclubs. Maddock passed the driver a handful of silver stavrata, the coins jingling as she pocketed them. Then he and Raf were on their own, squeezing through the rambunctious crowd outside the club until they spotted a few men and women in the pale green uniforms of the NCPD standing off to the side.
“Hello hello,” said Maddock as they approached, tapping two fingers to his forehead in a lazy salute. “Special Corporals Shadowstalker and Levitsky reporting for duty. Is Sergeant Stratiotica around?”
“That’s me,” said a short, broad-shouldered woman, her voice coloured by a rolling Byzantine accent. She shook Maddock’s hand, then turned her attention to Raf, who was beginning to get slightly light-headed from regulating his breathing so intensely.
“Thank you for having us, Sergeant,” said Raf. He extended his hand, and made the mistake of exhaling a little too quickly. One of the buttons popped off his shirt with enough force to propel it over Stratiotica’s shoulder.
“Pleasure,” said Stratiotica, who appeared to be making a pointed effort not to stare at the expanse of Raf’s bare chest the other buttons were now struggling to cover. “We’re about to move in to start making inquiries. We’re keeping things casual for now—we want our guy nervous, but not panicking, so we can flush him out. We got a tip he’s moving merch today so ask if people have seen anything suspicious—if we’re lucky, we’ll get some outright reports of portal activity. Primary suspect is male, early thirties, Brittanic, reportedly missing the pinky and ring fingers on his left hand. Good? Alright”—Stratiotica raised her voice slightly, gesturing for the attention of the other offices—“let’s go, people! You two stick by me,” she added to Raf and Maddock, who nodded and fell into step behind her as the group made for a back entrance.
Inside, the club was packed with sweaty, noisy revellers, most of whom seemed to be drunk, high, or some combination thereof. The whole building shuddered with the pounding bass of music amplified so loud Raf felt it vibrating in the pit of his stomach, to the beat of which performers in varying states of undress gyrated suggestively on a stage at one end of the room. Raf and Maddock were watching Stratiotica speak rapid Hellenic to a young man in sequined booty shorts and improbable amounts of body glitter when a trio of giggling girls squeezed past them, cutting Raf off from the other two officers. Maddock glanced back, blinking in surprise and opening his mouth to say something, but before his forked tongue had a chance to spit it out, someone was grabbing Raf’s arm and tugging him insistently away.
“There you are,” growled the surly, hulking woman who was now hauling him towards an unobtrusive door at the back of the room. “You’re s’posed to be on deck, stupid. Stay backstage next time.”
“Excuse me, ma’am, I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else,” Raf said politely. He attempted to twist his arm out of her grip, gently, but her fingers were clenched as tight and immovable around his bicep as the handcuffs clipped to his belt.
“What?” she shouted over the music.
“I said—” Raf began, raising his voice slightly.
But at this point she dragged him through the door, past a cluster of men and women changing in and out of skimpy costumes, and crammed a fake police hat on his head. Then she shoved him through a pair of musty black curtains, and he found himself staggering out onto the club’s stage, the faces of the intoxicated revellers swimming below him as the stage lights dazzled his eyes. Police sirens wailed over the speakers, quickly dissolving into a song with a suggestively bouncy electronic beat.
Raf whirled around, already opening his mouth to explain to the woman once again that there had been an understandable and perhaps mildly humorous misunderstanding, but the curtain had swung closed behind him. The movement did, however, succeed in popping two more buttons off his—Moira’s—shirt, so that his tie was now essentially hanging over his bare chest.
The crowd cheered.
Raf’s bewilderment lasted only a moment. He was here to do a job. That was the important thing. He stepped forward, cleared his throat, and said, “Good evening, ladies and gentleman. I’m with the Ventura City Police Department, assisting the NCPD with their inquiries. Has anyone noticed any suspicious activity tonight? My colleagues and I are happy to address any of your concerns, but we’re particularly interested in any information related to interdimensional portals that may have been opened on the premises tonight or in recent months.”
“You can open my portal, Officer!” shouted a woman sitting at a table near the stage. She was swaying slightly in her seat, and wearing a sash that said BRIDE-TO-BE over a dress that was more cutout than fabric. Her friends screamed with laughter, pounding their table and slopping their drinks all over each other.
Just behind them, Raf spotted Stratiotica and a few of the other NCPD officers, all of whom were staring dumbly up at him, their faces slack with shock. Maddock, at Stratiotica’s side, seemed to be having some sort of fit. He was doubled over, his skinny shoulders shaking as he clutched at a nearby table to keep himself upright.
And then there was the man in the cowboy hat sitting at a table, stage-left, beside a pair of butch lizard girls. He was holding a cocktail (lime green, paper umbrella, twirly straw) and wearing a backless denim romper, which was interesting, but not as interesting as the way the man’s whole body had twitched, first when Raf said “police,” then a second time when he’d said “portal.” His eyes were narrowed now, watching Raf with a calculating sort of intensity. Raf’s eyes went to the man’s left hand, the one holding the cocktail. The pinky and ring fingers were notable in their absence, both ending in stumps right above the first knuckles.
“This is a serious investigation,” Raf informed the riotous clubbers, several of whom were now chanting, “Take-it-off! Take-it-off!”
“Investigate this, Officer!” shouted someone. A moment later, a lacy red thong was slingshotted up onto the stage, shooting past Raf’s ear and narrowly missing smacking him right in the face.
Cowboy Hat set down his drink, and shifted uncomfortably on his stool, fidgeting. He patted his pocket, as if for reassurance that whatever it contained was still there.
Raf frowned. Maddock appeared to have recovered from his fit slightly, at least enough to allow him to stand upright. Raf caught his eye and jerked his head almost imperceptibly to Cowboy Hat. Maddock wiped away a few tears, but his gaze went where Raf had wanted, and Raf saw him whisper something to Stratiotica, who nodded. Good.
“Lock me up, Officer, I’ve been bad!” hollered a lupine man in extremely short cutoffs, whose bare chest revealed sizeable tufts of the sort of hair Raf associated with Moira’s poodle.
“Making false confessions is a criminal offence,” Raf reminded the werewolf, but his attention was still fixed on Cowboy Hat. He had risen from his stool now and started to push his way through the crowd towards the exit, casting anxious, twitchy glances back at Raf. Then he spotted Maddock and the NCPD officers moving purposefully towards him, and froze. He whipped around, his eyes wide and panic-stricken, and started reaching for whatever was in his pocket.
Maddock and Stratiotica were still too far away, their progress impeded by the intoxicated clubbers dancing and cheering and staggering around. Raf’s body had started to move before he’d even registered what exactly he was planning to do. He’d been first-on-scene at far too many analogous incidents to take any risks. He sprinted down the stage, the remaining buttons on his shirt going flying with the swinging of his arms, took a running leap into the crowd, and tackled Cowboy Hat to the ground.
Cowboy Hat hit the sticky, grimy floor of the club as Raf’s not inconsiderable weight. Raf went down with him, landing right on Cowboy Hat’s back, the impact knocking the breath right out of him as if a jumbo jet had collided with his solar plexus. Struggling to breath, he pinned both of Cowboy Hat’s arms to the floor at his sides. Cowboy Hat flailed a bit, but Raf regularly benched more than the guy’s entire body weight, which Cowboy Hat quickly seemed to recognize. The audience whooped and whistled, clearly taking this to be part of the show.
“Excuse me, sir,” said Raf, “but the NCPD would like to bring you in for questioning in relation to several counts of unlicensed interdimensional trade, possession of counterfeit goods, importation of contraband, and tax evasion. We will, of course, provide you with an itemized list of charges for your reference, and allow you to contact your lawyer prior to questioning.”
Raf shifted his position for better leverage, just in case Cowboy Hat decided to try anything. With the torturous sound of taut fabric giving way under immense pressure, Raf’s pants ripped right down the ass, exposing his sensible grey boxer-briefs to the crowd, who cheered uproariously. “Yes, daddy!” shrieked one of the clubbers, possibly the werewolf again.
“Hey, fuck you, man, fuck you!” snarled Cowboy Hat. “I didn’t do nothin’! Fuck you!”
Maddock and the NCPD chose this moment to shoulder their way through the crowd, assisted by the flashing of their badges. From here, Stratiotica and her team took over, all of them politely avoiding looking anywhere below the region of Raf’s neck.
Grinning a sly grin that didn’t bode well for Raf, Maddock handed him a dark green NCPD jacket, presumably borrowed from one of the officers. Raf knotted it around his waist, where it covered the worst of the damage.
“Nice work out there, Officer Ripped,” said Maddock. When Raf looked at him blankly, Maddock added, “That’s your stage name. It’s on the program.” He pointed to the card propped up on a nearby table, where, indeed, Officer Ripped was listed, right between Cheri Cola and Hottt Karl VIII. “At least you’ve got a fallback if the whole cop thing doesn’t work out, right?”
“Would I be correct in assuming,” Raf began, following an uncomfortable hunch, “that you filmed the entire thing?”
Maddock’s grin stretched even wider, showing off his pointy teeth. He waggled his phone in front of Raf’s face. “But of course.”
“And would I also be correct in assuming that you’re planning on sharing the video in our team group chat?”
“Already sent. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t share your debut performance? Therese says fire-emoji-fire-emoji-fire-emoji, by the way.”
“I believe colleagues would be a more appropriate way to categorize our relationship.”
“Whatever you say, Officer.” Maddock patted his shoulder in what was probably meant to be a soothing way. Then he wrinkled his nose. “Ew. You’re, like, really sweaty.”
“You two can head out,” Stratiotica called as two of her officers escorted Cowboy Hat towards the door. “We’ll take it from here.”
“Come on, Levitsky,” said Maddock. “Better rest up if we want to show the NCPD how we do things in Ventura City tomorrow. Although, I mean—you’ve already made a pretty good start.”
Watch out Instagram for a chance to submit a prompt for February!