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February 19, 2014

A Cold Wind Blows

“There’s a body, Jim.”

“There’s always a body,” Jim said, not bothering to walk over. He walked over to open the window, exhaled, and plucked out his cigarette. “We only get these calls after someone’s dead.”

“Yeah, and it’s our job to find it. Here it is.”

A man walked down the sidewalk below, shivering, the aging peacoat failing to shield his body from the unforgiving wind. These streets were a cold place, where the winter air is funneled directly into the faces of people unfortunate enough to end up there, where the sight of dried blood merely makes passersbys grateful that they weren’t there a few hours sooner.

Jim hated these streets, for they were as abusive as his marriage. He had given them the best years of his life, and though he was now approaching sixty, he had nothing to show for it. After twenty-seven years of trying, there was no love or affection. The sidewalks weren’t safer, decent paying jobs were as rare as politicians, and only a handful of people even recognized his face.

“How do you think he died?”

“Huh?” Jim asked, not listening.

“Who did him in?”

Jim shrugged. “Drugs. It’s always drugs.”

“I don’t think that’s it. I see no gunshot wounds, don’t smell anything. Nothing.”

“Phone it in. We answered the call, and we found the body. Let the detectives take care of it from here.”

Jim turned around, not seeing nor caring about the eyes burning a hole in his back. The cold draft from the window brushed against chest. He didn’t move, didn’t shiver, didn’t bother to close his jacket. He wanted to feel the brisk night air. Its touch felt familiar.

The same wind tugged firmly on his jacket every time he stepped out of his delivery truck on his first job snagged after college. This air had tossed his hat off his head during nearly ever ball game he had ever cared to pay for. It ruined his suits for most interviews, and it had stolen more of his dollar bills and receipts than he cared to admit.

But the wind was persistent. It wasn’t that it was unchanging. Few things in this part of town changed. No, the wind was always upfront. It did nothing to suggest that it could use help. Its will couldn’t be overcome. The most anyone could hope to do was redirect it, but this only applied its force in a new direction, leaving it as powerful as it was before. The better option was to work with it, to harness its energy, to use it to fix you, not the other way around.

“You just gonna stand there?”

“Huh?” Jim asked again.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

“What are you up to?”

“There’s a body here. I want to know why.”

Frank opened his mouth, but he didn’t get the words out.

“Don’t tell me it was drugs. Don’t tell me this guy finally got what’s coming to him. Don’t tell me some punk kid wandered in here and made off with the goods. Don’t tell me we’ve see this before. This guy, Jim… Jim! Look at me!”

“What?”

“This guy has a name – had, a name – before he died. I didn’t know it, did you?”

“Can’t say that I did.”

“Then let’s try to figure that much out. Let’s give the guy that much.”

“I don’t owe him anything,” Jim said, turning back around.

Most would say that Jim should have known better than to see hope in these streets. The only thing they had done since the 60s was decline, when the nearby mills closed down and all the good jobs moved to other cities. Some merely hopped over to the suburbs, taking with them all the stores, theaters, parks, and any other signs of life. The people left behind survived, but they didn’t have much room left for living.

Jim’s own family had followed a similar trajectory. His ancestors came over from Europe to this city, and this was where they stayed. His family had drawings of what the area looked like back before photographs were around to capture buildings on crumbling sheets on faded paper. But as jobs moved to the next county over, his own family did the same, albeit begrudgingly. He was raised right on the border, a foot in each direction. He went to college on that side, but when it came time to do something with his life, he gravitated back towards the streets that he never could forgive his parents for leaving behind.

The sad thing is, Jim’s parents knew something that took a lifetime to learn. Some things can’t be changed. Some conflicts require more than a few won battles; they required victorious wars. Jim had managed a few successes over the course of his career, but he had achieved nothing that could be confused for a successful campaign. He had given his all, and all he got back were consistent defeats. It didn’t matter how many nights he had spent patrolling this neighborhood, there was always a dead guy on the floor.

“Is everything alright at home?”

You mean, is it any worse than usual?” Jim retorted.

“Yeah. Is it?”

“No.” Jim’s wife had gone to stay with her parents for a few weeks. They weren’t separated, but as the number of days became more than a single calendar page could keep up with, it sure started to feel like it.

“So she’s still out of town. Sucks.”

“Did you check his wallet?” Jim asked, eager to talk about anything else.

“What?”

“The wallet. Did you check the guy’s -”

“Of course I checked his pockets, Jim. Christ, man. What do you think I’ve been doing here?”

“What are either of us doing here?”

“What – no, don’t turn around again. What is going on with you?”

“I’m done.”

“Done with what?”

“This. I’m done. This is my last day.”

“You retiring?”

“No.”

“Then what?”

“Jacob Marley.”

“Who?”

“His name’s Jacob Marley.”

“How do you know this?”

“He slept with my wife.”

A deep silence filled the room, interrupted only by the cold wind blowing in through the window. Jim turned back around. Again, he welcomed the breeze to brush against his chest. It cooled the heat that previously burned inside him.

“When?”

“Five weeks ago.”

“So that’s why she left. God, Jim, how could you? You son of a… and you still came in today. Why? You want me to turn you in, after all we’ve done together?”

“No. You don’t have to do anything. In fact, it will be better if you didn’t. Forensics will find my fingerprints on his body. I missed the chance to cover my tracks, so I’m here with you. I wanted one last night together.”

“And that’s why you haven’t been able to look at me for more than a few seconds, isn’t it?”

Jim nodded, his eyes still glued to the street below.

“How could you do this, Jim?”

The wind picked up outside, swirling around flickering street lights and signs that had been tagged over too long for anyone to remember what they originally said. Somewhere down the road, someone was getting robbed. Unlike most parts of the country, the crime wave here hadn’t diminished at all in the three decades Jim had devoted his life to breaking it. All that changed was who committed what, and where. Like the wind that pushed against Jim’s chest now, some forces couldn’t be stopped, only redirected.

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“A Cold Wind Blows” by Bertel King, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.