John Rock stepped hesitantly into the station, the light so blindingly bright it pierced even the imposing wall of his truly massive aviator sunglasses. He approached the desk and gave his name. The check-in girl was pretty in a subdued, authoritative fashion. She looked like she'd bust your balls at the station and do something else to them entirely at home. And then bust them again when she was finished. "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."
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.
"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 clichÃÂ©!"
"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
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,