A Purveyor of Odd Things (Short Story Excerpt from Ragged Souls)

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A Purveyor of Odd Things

by Ernesto San Giacomo

It is a daunting task to take a three dimensional world, cram it onto a two dimensional surface, and reverse it in the hope that someone will see the message: see oneself as others do, regard one’s opposite self and recognize the possibility for change. A mirror can possess that quality; it just depends upon the eyes of the viewer. Most people do not look deep into the reflection. Instead, they only see the superficiality of the surface. Detective Renner Branson is just such a person.

Detective Branson soaked a paper towel under cold water and wiped the dollop of mustard from his tie.  He looked in the mirror to make sure nothing else stained his clothes or cheeks. The face that stared back was not particularly striking, even in Branson’s own mind. With graying hair and dull brown eyes, it was the type of face that blended in with the crowd.  Satisfied that his appearance was at least clean, the detective returned to the squad room.

 He was working late again, and dinner was just a hot dog from the local diner. Branson was used to this routine; he often volunteered to let the others have Sundays off.  Overtime paid well, and Sundays were slow at Wassaw County police headquarters, letting him catch up on all that paperwork. If people knew the truth about being a cop, no one would take the job, he thought.  Gunfights, car chases, and alluring femme fatales only existed in fiction. The reality was a lukewarm hotdog, and a mountain of reports to be typed.

With a sigh, he got to work. The room lacked the weekday din of activity. Only the blare of a baseball game on the radio broke the silence, underscored by quiet tapping on a single keyboard. Hours later, Branson had cleared out the overflowing inbox.  Though tired, he decided to work until the ballgame ended. After all, a five-dollar bet was riding on it. He closed his eyes for a moment, only to be jolted back to awareness by the dull thud of a file being plopped on the desk.

            “Got a present for you, Detective.”

            Branson glanced at the file, and then stared up at Sergeant Miller. “You gotta be kidding me, Sarge.”

            “The other guys are all on a cross-over case, so the Captain says you get all the missing persons reports. Besides, you’re gonna love what I highlighted.” Miller took two reports out of the folder and held one in each hand. “Some real weird stuff in here.”

Police paperwork was a meticulous task that required strict attention to regulations.  Branson puffed his chest out a bit, regarding this extra assignment as a small badge of honor. As Miller left, Branson paged to the highlighted sections of the files and saw that the sergeant hadn’t been kidding about strange things. He picked up the phone and started to dial the contact from the first report when he realized the time.

            Nine o’clock, and I’m leaving in an hour. Too late to start ringing doorbells or phones. Guess I’ll do some background stuff here and save the footwork for tomorrow. I could use some help, though. Where’s Miller?

            He put down the phone and headed to the front desk, but only found Sgt. Timmerman. As usual, the man was reading something that sane people considered either creepy or ridiculous. Everyone else in the station referred to him as Timmy, but Branson preferred to keep things professional. 

            “What’s on the agenda this week, Timmerman? Goblins, zombies or vampires?” the detective asked.

            “Alien abduction, and it ain’t some made-up hoax. This guy actually remembers the whole thing.”

            The detective rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say, Sergeant.  If you see Miller, tell him I need him.”

            Branson strode back to the squad room and had just logged into the Missing Persons database when he heard Timmerman’s distant voice saying, “Hey, Miller, Branson’s looking for you.”

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