"You're Rock, huh?" a voice called out behind him.
John turned to survey a mountain of a man (which is how colorful metaphors describe fatties). John gave Sergeant Cheesesteak a curt nod.
Don't let looks fool you: That burger was a stone cold killer.
"Come with me; I'll introduce you to your new partner," Cheesesteak thundered down the long hallway to the squad room.
"I still say this is a mistake," Rock muttered, removing his huge, casual aviators and slipping into his even larger, more imposing formal aviators, "I work best alone."
"We all work best alone at this station," Cheesesteak replied, his mouth full of fatness and tongue, "but it's procedure. Every straight man needs a wacky partner, and vice versa. And I tell you what: It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I can't count how many times Sergeant Philly's saved my ass."
"Philly and Cheesesteak?" Rock balked.
"That's right. I'm fat and he's skinny. Classic odd couple. But through a series of extraordinary circumstances and by solving the case of our lives, we came to grudgingly respect one another."
"So you're saying I should just get it over with and accept my new partner?" John sighed wistfully; he thought about being alone, and how best he would work that way.
"Oh good lord, no," Cheesesteak stopped suddenly and swiveled on his hocks to face Rock. "A thousand times no. Your partner is... different."
"Different is OK," John replied warily.
"No, this isn't 'charmingly irreverent' different. This is 'he seemed so nice until the murders' different. You ask me, you oughta watch your back with him; he threw his last partner to the wolves as soon as it became convenient," Cheesesteak orbited back around and continued to trundle fatly down the hallway.
"Internal affairs," John grunted, and spat contemptuously.
"Nope! Literal wolves. Classic zoo robbery gone wrong scenario,'" Cheesesteak finished his foreshadowing just in time to dramatically swing open the double doors to the squad room.
How many lives will be lost here?
John took in the room. It was a small, unassuming space. Two rows of cheap plastic chairs facing a large whiteboard and podium. Every seat was filled with straight-laced men in severe suits seated next to disheveled, ruggedly handsome ne'er-do-wells in tropical shirts and torn jeans.
"John Rock, meet the force. Detectives William Smith and Sam Wesson," at each series of names, Cheesesteak gestured to various pairs of men, who nodded at Rock in turn, "Sergeants Robert Hammer and Andy Sickle, Lieutenants Jonas Goodcop and Henry Badcop-"
"Wait, your last names are seriously Goodcop and Badcop? Bullshit," Rock interrupted.
"It's true," Replied Badcop, waxing a surfboard for no immediately apparent reason. "I didn't even wanna to be on the force. I was just a bartender, but as soon as the Captain learned my name he funded my progress through the academy and here I am. Oh man, John Rock? That's your name? That must mean your partner's going to be..."
"Michael Hardplace," finished the stranger, bursting through the window on a zip-line.
He somersaulted to a stop at Rock's feet and high-fived the out-stretched hands that John had risen to protect himself from shards of errant glass. "So you're my new partner, eh? Don't look like much to me. No offense, buddy, but I don't think you'll last 10 minutes on the Timely Reference Force."
"Timely what?" Everybody in the room was wearing mirrored aviators, endlessly reflecting into one another. John was starting to become disconcerted by the infinity of grim, be-sunglassed men wherever he looked.
Are you not disconcerted?
"Jesus, don't they tell you anything? The TRF: We take on cases that are just thinly veiled allusions to recent headlines. You know, like Law and Order but slightly less gay. I meant that as in 'lame,' not 'homo.' No offense Detectives Hetero and Gaylord," Hardplace nodded in the direction of two officers--one man in a somber blue three piece suit, the other in nothing but a yellow thong, a badge and a crown. They briefly returned his nod, before resuming their presumably witty repartee.
"Like what?" Rock asked, crossing his arms skeptically.
"He really is a fantastic straight man," Sergeant Philly noted. There was a murmur of agreement throughout the room.
"Come on. I'll show you," Hardplace pushed past him, and began gliding rapidly down the hallway. For one panicked moment, Rock fought back the terrible thought that his partner might be a ghost, before realizing he just had those shoes with wheels in the bottom.
As they wound their way through the station proper, John noted dozens of increasingly unlikely pairs: a tribal African chieftain and an albino, a giant and a midget, a refined lady in a full evening gown and a savage grizzly in a police hat.
"Queen and the Bear," Hardplace filled in, noticing John's confounded stare.
"How the hell did that bear make it through the academ-"
"Ah, here we go," Hardplace came to a sudden stop at a row of identical doorways. "This is the case we're working on now: mass vehicular homicide. Seems like a major auto manufacturer, the ah... the Yotoya corporation... has built a series of faulty vehicles that randomly accelerate out of control. Even though that is clearly not a criminal matter, we're taking him down anyway. We've got Chairman Yotoya here in the holding room. I was about to head in and interrogate him, but the goddamn Captain said I had to wait for a straight man. So let's get to it."
John numbly followed Hardplace into the large, empty white room. A timid looking Asian man sat alone at a bare steel table. He saw them enter, and immediately started pleading in Japanese.
"Speak English, motherfucker!" Hardplace screamed, instantly pulling his sidearm and firing it wildly about the room.
"Jesus Christ!" Rock and the businessman dove for cover, only reluctantly emerging when Hardplace had finished emptying the clip.
"That was only a warning shot because you got lucky!" Hardplace bellowed at the cowering man.
"His file says he only knows Japanese! He can't just 'speak English,' man!"
"I bet he speaks bullet!"
"Bullet, motherfucker! Do you speak it?"
"OK! I'll speak English," the man replied, seemingly to his own surprise.
"How did you do that?" Rock was sure the file listed no other spoken languages.
"I don't even know! I'm just so, so scared!"
"See that? In my experience, everybody speaks English if you give them the right incentive," Hardplace added, sliding another clip into his pistol.
"Mr. Yotoya," Rock began, sidling up to the man's side and offering him a water bottle, "we understand your company is very large. We know there's no way you have any personal stake in these accidents. We understand that you're mostly just a figurehead, but the thing about figureheads is that they're the first people you see when you're looking to blame somebody."
Yotoya looked hopefully up into Rock's face, and opened his mouth to speak. It was quickly closed when Hardplace hit him full force in the back of the head with a folding chair.
"Boom! Bad cop!" He triumphantly screamed at the unconscious heap of chairman on the floor.
"Please, I do not know what to say," Yotoya continued (after Rock had the nurses bring the Smelling Salts and remove everything not bolted down from the room), "my fear-English is still so limited. My words cannot express my regret at this situation..."
"Bullshit!" Hardplace screamed, pulling off his belt and hurling it at the man, "You're the public avatar of a large, soulless corporation! And you're also a foreigner! You're so obviously the bad guy it's practically a clich!"
"At least he's not a diplomat. Jesus those guys are scary. With their evil...diplomacy."
"I apologized!" Yotoya pleaded.
"To be fair, sir," Rock rifled through the papers at his side and began reading off the interview transcript, " you said you were sorry you focused 'too narrowly on technical issues without taking full account on the way consumers used our vehicles.' That's not really an apology. If anything, that seems to be implying that the victims killed themselves through sheer incompetence. It's not like it was a muddy area--they sped up instead of stopping. There are two pedals, one for 'go' and one for 'don't go.' Stating that the 'way they used their vehicles' is the source of the problem is basically saying they died because they were too stupid to tell left from right."
"But this is not solely a matter of corporate responsibility," Yotoya protested. "It is not like I build them in my backyard and send them over here! They are built by Americans at American plants! Besides, did your current president not appoint a Car Czar? Is this not a man who is responsible for, amongst other things, vehicular safety testing? Should there not have been some oversight on his part, if these products were truly faulty from the start? If cars started losing control and there was a man in my country who had literally been crowned some kind of feudal ruler of all automobiles, I would bring my problems to King Transporto!"
Pictured: The Car Czar.
"I will burn you in effigy!" Hardplace, whom Rock had just noticed was being conspicuously silent, suddenly dropped from the ceiling where he'd apparently been clinging to the rafters. He landed on the desk mere inches from Yotoya, and began flicking his lighter menacingly at the terrified little man who was clearly starting to show the first signs of shock.
"Hardplace, no! An effigy is a thing that you burn in place of somebody! It's not actually that somebody!" Rock wrestled him to the ground and put him in a half-nelson.
"I'll burn him in place of his mother!"
"Oh god!" Tears and other things began to spill out of Yotoya. "We sell like forty million cars a minute! By the law of averages, some of them are going to fail!"
Hardplace opened his mouth as if to respond, seemed to think better of it and instead began frantically chewing off his own arm in an attempt to escape Rock's grasp.
"Please realize that I live in a society where the absolute worst thing a man can do is make his company look bad, and the second worst is losing them money. I have made the largest car company on Earth look like the comet from Maximum Overdrive, and lost them more money this year than technically exists yet. You cannot do worse to me, I am already [unintelligible]!"
Anybody? Anybody at all remember this movie? No?
"I didn't understand that last word" Rock said, releasing Hardplace who had forgotten why he was chewing his own arm in the first place, and was now merely intent on continuing to do so.
"[Unintelligible]? It means... ah, forgive me. It does not translate. There is no English equivalent. It means something like 'so fucked that I will have to commit suicide, then return to Earth as a ghost to apologize for my poorly executed suicide by committing ghost-suicide.'"
"That's one word in Japan?"
"It happens surprisingly often."
"FEAR!" Hardplace shrieked, scissor-kicking Yotoya out of his chair.
"Great job on your first assignment, boys! Looks like we have a full confession from Mr. Yotoya, as well as complete DNA, blood, stool, urine and, strangely, semen samples from him."
"Jesus, was there anything left of him?"
"Yeah," Hardplace laughed, "that got strange towards the end."
"How'd you manage it, Rock?"
"I didn't, sir. That was all Hardplace. He screamed in Mr. Yotoya's face for 43 straight minutes without taking a breath, and I think that somehow hypnotized him."
"Just like the chickens back home on the farm," Hardplace said.
"You can hypnotize chickens by screaming in their face?"
"Well, I can," Hardplace added smugly.
"However you did it, you done good. It was a drastic oversimplification of a complicated and tragic series of events that supplied the angry and the dim-witted with some shallow catharsis, and that's all anybody can really ask of a media spectacle. Yes sir, I think this here is the beginning of a beautiful partnership."
Rock eased shut the Captain's door, and followed Hardplace across the station, and back towards the squad room.
"Excuse me, Officer Bloodsweat," Hardplace said, easing through the crowd, "pardon me, Officer Tears. Well, we dragged out a tangentially related scapegoat for a negligent company and eviscerated him in front of everybody. Doesn't it feel good to help people, Rock?"
"I'm not sure any of this helped anything," Rock muttered, puzzling out the day's events.
"It helped Yotoya learn a valuable lesson," Hardplace said, whipping out a yo-yo from nowhere in particular.
"You never get between a Rock and... his partner, Michael."
"I really thought you were gonna say it."
"I think people get it by now," Hardplace tried to pull off an around-the-world, but quickly lost control of the string and sent the yo-yo hurtling across the office. It crashed into the wall just behind the only two men in actual police uniforms.
"Oop! Sorry Officers Schumacher and Harris!" he hollered at the pair, who simply shot him icy glares and returned to their paperwork.
"I didn't get that one," Rock admitted.
"Psh," Hardplace scoffed, "Affirmative Action hires."
You can pre-order Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead on Amazon, or find him on Twitter, Facebook and his own site, I Fight Robots or you could make your own sequel to this post by watching Lethal Weapon and subbing in your own synonyms for "penis."