22
Dec
16

Safety Nation Chapter 9

Chapter 9 is fun because you really get to see how ridiculous government bureaucracy can be. The chapter is meant to illustrate how much time, money, and resources a government can waste upholding pointless policies. A lot of people who have to do this sort of thing in real life think it’s just as stupid as Smith does.

In case you have missed the chapters so far, here are links to them:

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4

Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8

Announcement/Blurb

Cover Art

As always, the chapter below, and entire novel, are copyrighted.

— — —

Safety Nation by Logan Riley

9

Zamyatan was parking the car. We had received a tip about a safety violation in a downtown office building. Upon our arrival, we found the parking situation was as dreadful as always. My partner dropped me off in front of the building, and told me to get started while he found a place to park.

It was early morning, but the sun was already blazing. I started to sweat the moment I exited the car. When he drove away from the curb, I pulled off my hat and fanned my face. I headed inside, through the revolving door, welcoming the cooler air.

The building was a high-rise, fifty stories tall, in the center of the city. The atrium looked like every other atrium: stone floor, a ceiling triple the height of a regular ceiling, and a panel of UV-shielded windows above the entrance. To the right was a small coffee stand. Near the back was a bank of elevators and an unmanned security desk.

Whoever was in charge of security would be in trouble if anyone discovered them absent. I hoped Zamyatan wouldn’t notice. I wasn’t looking forward to doing any extra paperwork today.

Between the elevators was an office directory. I read it, looking at the myriad companies crammed into the building. Which one were we here to investigate? I had no idea. I hadn’t paid attention to Atwood this morning.

There was still no sign of my partner. I walked over to the coffee stand.

The barista, a 20 year-old kid with a minefield of acne on his face, asked, “What can I get you?”

“Irish coffee.”

“Irish . . . coffee? I’m not sure what that is.”

“It’s regular coffee, but with whisky in it.”

“Whisky? You mean alcohol?”

“You catch on fast.”

“I’m sorry, sir, we don’t serve whisky. Alcohol is illegal.”

“Red wine is legal. It’s good for your heart.”

“Oh, I see. Would you like some red wine in your coffee?”

“Do you have any?”

“No.”

“Then why did you ask?”

The barista’s jaw moved up and down like he wanted to say something, but his brain couldn’t process the conversation any longer.

“Just give me a regular coffee,” I said, freeing him from his catatonia.

“Yes, sir.” He began to fiddle with the coffee equipment.

I heard footfalls echo across the floor behind me. I turned around and saw Zamyatan. “You are already here,” he said. “Good.”

Zamyatan was a middle-aged man of average height with a ruddy complexion and a thick beard. His brown eyes were sunken deep into his skull. His dark hair was hidden beneath his bowler hat.

If he had any feelings about working with me, he didn’t let them show. Unlike Atwood who struggled to stay balanced, Zamyatan had no emotions to convey. He was completely collected, and despite my efforts to engage him in conversation, his only interest was doing his job. He didn’t want to make friends at work.

The barista finished the coffee. The cup was steaming. He popped on a secure plastic lid and handed it to me. As he did, I asked Zamyatan, “You want one? I’ll buy.”

“No. One should be enough,” he replied.

“One?”

I hoped he didn’t plan on sharing it.

“Yes,” he said bluntly, taking the cup from my hand.

He popped off the plastic lid, and it clattered to the floor. Steam rose out of the cup in fat waves. Zamyatan reached inside his jacket and pulled out a long cylindrical device. He dropped it into the steaming liquid. A red digital readout appeared on the device. The first number displayed was fifteen. Quickly, the number began to rise: forty-eight, seventy-five, ninety, one hundred twenty two, and it finally stopped climbing at two hundred and thirty seven.

“Just as we suspected,” Zamyatan said.

“What have we suspected?” I asked.

“This vendor is selling coffee that is too hot.”

“What?” the barista said with disbelief.

Zamyatan put the cup on the counter. He focused his attention on the kid. He rattled off a series of questions. Meanwhile, I picked up the coffee and sipped it. It was definitely hot, but too hot? I couldn’t recall a cup of coffee being too hot. At least not one that couldn’t be remedied by cooling down for a minute or two.

“Why are you heating it this much?” Zamyatan asked.

“I’m just doing what I’m told,” the kid answered, alarmed.

“Do you realize that overheated beverages violate safety statute 43-04-17?”

“No, I didn’t, sir.”

“So, what, you were just following orders?”

“Yes, sir, that’s right.”

“And where is your manager?”

“I don’t know. It’s his day off. He’s probably at home.”

“We will talk to him. Until then, your coffee stand is closed.”

Zamyatan saw me drinking the coffee. “Smith, what are you doing?” he asked.

“Drinking my coffee,” I said.

“That is evidence,” he said, snatching it away.

“It won’t be evidence once it cools down.”

He picked the lid off the floor and secured it tightly over the cup. Meanwhile, the barista turned off his equipment and put up the “closed” sign.

Zamyatan and I walked to his car. I felt absurd. I had gone from sex cop to coffee cop. I couldn’t believe my luck.

Zamyatan sat, statuesque, in the driver’s seat, his hands resting in his lap while the Auto-Driver chauffeured us to our destination. For a while, I mused about Lowry, wondering how she was getting along with Atwood. After that, my mind lapsed into space.

The car pulled to a stop in a quiet neighborhood. The engine whined down, and I stepped onto the curb. A home, just like mine, stood modestly before us. The smell of fresh air filled my nostrils. Birds chirped in the distance. A gentle breeze blew across my brow. I closed my eyes, taking it all in.

Zamyatan marched toward the house. He rang the doorbell and rapped on the door. A moment later, a short, fat man appeared.

“Mr. Hartley?” Zamyatan asked.

“Yes? How can I help you?”

“We are Safety Inspectors with the Healthcare Department. We would like to ask you a few questions. Would you please come with us?”

“Uh, yes, sir,” Hartley said timidly.

Zamyatan turned on his heel and strode past me. “Cuff him,” he said brusquely.

Hartley lifted his wrists for the handcuffs. Instead of doing that, I motioned for him to follow me. When Zamyatan reached the car, he helped Hartley get inside. He must have seen Hartley wasn’t wearing handcuffs, but he didn’t say anything.

Back at the Central Office, we placed Hartley in an interrogation room. It consisted of nothing more than an overhead light and a chair. The walls were padded so suspects couldn’t accidentally or deliberately harm themselves.

I stood in one corner of the room, my arms folded over my chest, and one leg kicked back against the wall. My partner began the interrogation. I wasn’t interested in participating. This case redefined the concept of a waste of time.

“Were you aware the temperature of the coffee violated safety regulations?” Zamyatan asked.

Hartley shook his head furiously.

“Why did you make it so hot?”

“I was told to make it that way.”

“And who told you that?”

“The owner, Mr. Karp.”

“Did anyone complain about the coffee being too hot?”

“No.”

“What temperature do you usually make it?”

“I don’t know. Mr. Karp showed me how to make it, so I taught all of our baristas to do the same. We don’t even look at the temperature.”

“Why would he want it so hot?”

“He told me people liked it better that way. That it was more European.”

“European? What is that?”

Zamyatan wasn’t up on his history. Most agents weren’t. My days spent in the Archives kept me well informed about all sorts of world history tidbits. Centuries ago, all the continents had different names, instead of the numbers they are assigned today. Continent Three was named Europe. That was before the First Government streamlined everything. It boggled the mind to imagine a time when there was more than one government, more than one language, more than one culture. How did people communicate? How did anything get done? It seemed like a fairy tale.

“I don’t know what he meant,” Hartley answered.

“Very well. We are going to keep you here until we can talk with your boss.”

We headed out once more, the Auto-Driver shuttling us to another identical neighborhood. I checked my watch. It was the afternoon now. This coffee conspiracy was taking all day. We’d have an obscene amount of paperwork to complete.

Zamyatan knocked on the front door and rang the doorbell. We waited. I already knew everything that would happen next. Karp would peer at us sheepishly, Zamyatan would ask him a few questions, and Karp would say he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong.

After a full minute, Zamyatan knocked again. I heard a dull scuffling from within the house. Someone was pacing, deciding whether or not to answer the door. Zamyatan knocked a third time.

The door opened. Karp looked out at us. His hair was a mess, and his eyes were fully dilated. His hand, which rested on the door, had a fine tremor. It looked like he was drinking too much of his own product.

“Mr. Karp?” Zamyatan asked.

“Yes?”

“We are Safety Inspectors with the Healthcare Department. We would like to ask you a few questions about your coffee stand.”

“Please, come in,” he said, swinging the door wide open.

Zamyatan peered inside. His eyes narrowed. He turned the offer over in his mind. He shook his head and said, “You will have to come with us.”

Was he serious? Was he expecting an ambush from a coffee shop owner?

Karp stepped outside. “Of course, Inspector,” he said as he pulled the door shut.

Zamyatan turned and walked past me. “Cuff him,” he said brusquely.

“Let’s go,” I said to Karp while motioning toward the car.

He walked quickly, his rapid pace fueled by caffeine. Zamyatan had already reached the car, and was opening the back door. Karp was halfway down the sidewalk, headed for the vehicle. I shoved my hands in my pockets and wondered how many more people we’d have to arrest today. How far did the coffee conspiracy go?

Suddenly, Karp broke to the right, running fast, and speeding away.

“Go after him,” Zamyatan said calmly.

I raced after Karp. Within moments, my heart was pounding, about to burst from my chest. The muscles in my rib cage tightened, and felt like a knife twisting in my side. I was huffing, already out of breath. The sweltering heat sent sweat pouring down my face.

Karp, about fifteen years younger than me, was gaining distance. There was no way I’d be able to catch him. I kept running, pumping my legs, and trying to ignore the pain that racked my body.

Ahead, the street turned into a T-junction. Karp veered right and shot off with greater speed than before. The guy was getting faster by the second. I was no match for him. I shouted something, but it came out an unintelligible gasp.

I rounded the corner. Karp’s body looked small now. He must have been fifty yards ahead of me. My body was screaming. My lungs couldn’t fill with enough air. My feet started to drag. My toes caught against the asphalt, and I slammed into the street. For an instant, I thought my face had imploded.

I felt a gust of air blow past my right side. Zamyatan’s car zoomed by, quickly gaining on Karp. The car made a hard turn and braked. Karp hurtled into it. He hit the hood and tumbled over the vehicle. He collapsed on the hard pavement beyond.

I grabbed my hat and sat upright, my entire body aching. I stretched my back and heard the pop of vertebrae. I tried to stand up but found my legs would not cooperate. That was fine. I’d wait for Zamyatan to pick me up.

With Karp handcuffed and in the back seat, Zamyatan’s car approached. The car stopped beside me. The window rolled down. Zamyatan poked his head out and scratched his beard. “Get in,” he said stoically.

I hauled myself up, feeling pain run through my body anew. When I got inside the car, Zamyatan said, “That is why you handcuff them.”

“Leg cuffs might have been better,” I said.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to track down any more suspects. Karp admitted to intentionally overheating the coffee because it would taste better. He said he got a lot of compliments from his customers. We eventually let Hartley go. Atwood was pleased with our arrest, and, as far as she was concerned, the coffee conspiracy was closed.

Even after all that work, Zamyatan didn’t crack a smile. We sat across from each other, at a desk, dividing the paperwork evenly. It took hours to complete. We ended up leaving work late. As salaried employees, we did not get paid overtime.

— — —

To be continued!

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