Help is on the way

Submitted into Contest #102 in response to: Write a story about someone losing faith in an institution.... view prompt


Contemporary Crime

He prepared for this day, his uniform crisp, shirt ironed to stiffness. In fact, there is not a hair out of place, and he took extra time this morning to shave his face as clean as possible. Though, he prepared for this day long before this morning. Three years in which he memorized the most important laws, learned how to write a report, and trained to use a gun. 1.095 days of hard work only for this moment. He took every hurdle, both metaphorical and physical. Every day, he did his best and he came up top of his class.

While the man stands and waits, his hand drums an infrequent tact against his leg. Tap tap. Tap. Deep in thought, he doesn’t notice the car passing him. A few meters behind the man, the vehicle comes to an abrupt stop. As he backs up, the driver rolls down the window.

“Jim Keller?”

“Yes?”, the young man startles. Squinting into the darkness of the car, he tries to make out the person speaking to him.

“Come on in, kid.”

When Keller does not respond immediately, the driver leans over the passenger seat and opens the door, giving it a little push with the tip of his fingers. The action must have been exhausting, Keller hears him huffing, short of breath. As he takes a step towards the car, the smell of stale cigarettes hits him like a wall. Stacking on top of each other, empty wrapping papers are piling on the passenger seat and bottles block the footwell.


Keller falters. Unsure how to proceed in the face of an event he is not prepared for. As soon as the driver recognizes his hesitation, he sweeps the papers onto the floor where they join the containers.

“There. Good as new.”

The smile he gives Keller is just a smidge too wide. Stubby nose sitting in a wrinkled face, the man is built like a bulldog. With deep-set eyes he examines Keller as the man gets into the car, trying to fit his lanky legs into the footwell, making the bottles clatter. As soon as the young man has gotten every limb under control and closes the door, the driver pulls up on the street.

“Name’s Randall. Smith. I’m your instructor for the next few weeks. Until you learn how not to crash the car at least.”

Gurgling deeply, he laughs at his own joke. Keller’s face contorts into a minuscule smile that does not reach his eyes. Curious, he takes a glance at his instructor out of the corner of his eye. The man passed his prime a few years ago. Thinning hair is plastered over his forehead and his belly extends over the seatbelt. However, the hands on the steering wheel grip surely with years of practice.

“Jim Keller.”, he introduces himself. “But you knew that.” He blushes, annoyed at himself for not being more eloquent.

“I surely do.”

They fall silent again. Obviously, Smith is not one for small talk. Even the radio crackling a romantic pop song won’t fill the silence between the two men and Keller’s hands return to their tapping. When he can’t stand the quiet much longer, he asks.

“Where exactly are we going?”

“We got a call from Miss Morrison.”, Smith states as if that is an answer at all.

Fortunately, the drive to Miss Morrison isn’t exceptionally long. Barley 15 minutes pass until they pull up to an apartment building. As Keller shuts the door, he takes in the building. The greyness of the brittle walls is only breached by the fire escape painted an unfitting green. There are no residents on the balconies even though the day is sunny and the air inside the apartments must be suffocating. Huh.

“Alrighty.”, supporting himself on the door, Smith hoists his massive body out of the car. Slowly, the two men make their way over the craggy front yard. Since the elevator is out of order, they take the stairs, Smith climbing each step with increasing heaviness. On floor four he pauses, propping himself upon his knees. Then he signals Keller to proceed down the dim hallway.

Taylor. Evans. Wilson. Morrison.

With a heavy hand, Smith knocks. Immediately, there is movement behind the door, and they can hear the chain rattling as it is removed. Miss Morrison is wearing a dusky pink overall in a fine flowers print. Keller distinctly remembers his mother wearing a similar one while scrubbing the kitchen. The odor of sweat seems to cling not only to the plump woman in front of him but the entire apartment.

“Officer Smith! I am so grateful that you are here.”

With three people standing at the entrance, the room is full bordering on cramped. Getting an overview, Keller can make out a pot with potatoes simmering on an encrusted stove. The bed is unmade, the sheets moving in the draft of a fan providing steady background noise.

“Miss Morrison.” Smith greets the woman. “This is Officer Keller.”

“Oh, good you brought reinforcement.”, whispering conspiratorially, she bents forward: “They're getting more and more.”

“Who does?” Keller asks. If there are intruders, he must call for real reinforcement. Shit.

Miss Morrison looks around wildly. Finally fixing her waxy eyes on Keller.

“You know.”, she murmurs. “The jinn.”

“Last week you said they were gone for good after we used the cleanser.”, Smith compensates for Keller’s stunt silence.

“Oh yeah.”, upset, Miss Morrison raises her voice again: “But they came back and brought some more of their kind. Really, very distressing. They are misplacing my pills again. And yesterday I overheard them whispering in the pipes.” Meaningfully, she glances at the kitchen sink.

“I understand. How unfortunate.”, Smith takes the radio off his belt. “Luckily, the department installed a new purification unit for large groups on the cleanser.”

He turns on the radio until it crackles and holds the gadget up for Miss Morrison to examine. With great care, he walks to the nearest door and moves it along the frame.

“I’m so glad your department stocks up on the newest technology. I wouldn’t know what else to do.”

Keller realizes that Miss Morrison is talking to him. How did she move even closer without him noticing?

“Uh.”, he stammers. Eyes wide, a small frown between his eyes, Smith throws him an intense look. 

“Yeah.”, Keller continues. “They have some very astute scientists at the station.”

The answer seems to satisfy Miss Morrison and she continues to follow Smith around the apartment. While Keller stays rooted on the spot, the officer takes his time to lead the device around every door and window. Lastly, after another look on part of Miss Morrison towards the sink, Smith takes the radio and leads it along the faucet.

“There.”, with his booming voice, he states: “All fixed. They won’t bother you again, Miss Morrison.”

“Oh, thank you so much, Officer.”, the woman turns on the sink, testing the water by bringing a hand into the stream, rubbing her fingers. “Yes, that should do.”

Smith throws her and Keller a bright grin. However, this time the young officer can’t force himself to respond with a smile of his own. Shrugging his shoulders, Smith doesn’t seem to mind. The bulky man makes his way over to the bedside table where magazines pile next to a vase with withered flowers while Keller turns to look at the potatoes now taking on a burnt smell without enough water to actually boil.

“Here are your pills, Miss Morrison.” Smith lifted a newspaper and surely, he has a small blister of tablets in his hand.

“How marvelous!”, as the woman rushes towards Smith for a moment one might gain the impression, she is about to hug him. However, she pauses right in front of the man. Delicately taking the small blister from his fleshy hands. They remain for a moment, then Smith wades through the room towards the exit.

“Have a great day, Miss Morrison.”, on his way he picks up the radio he set down on the kitchen counter, subsequently turning to Keller.

“Take-off, kid.”

Addressing both officers, Miss Morrison interrupts Keller’s goodbyes.

“Dear, are you sure you don’t want to stay for tea? I even got biscuits this time.”

They don’t. But they spend some more 15 minutes hanging around the door talking with Miss Morrison about her tomato plant and the way to the grocery store that gets longer and longer every time she has to haul her bags back to her flat. They rant about the elevator and the woman complains about her bad leg.

Finally, they leave the flat. As they pass the door next to Miss Morrison’s apartment, Keller overhears raised voices even though he can’t make out the words being hurled. Must be a domestic dispute.

“So.” he marks, as they make their way down the stairs. Though, he doesn’t have to finish his question.

“She calls every other week. Says there are jinns.”, Keller snorts but Smith continues deadly serious, his voice straining with exhaustion. “Yeah. They harass the neighbors next door and have been bothering her for 3 years. You know. Voices and whispers at night. Important stuff misplaced, most often her heart remedies.”

At the end of the staircase, Smith inspects the “Out of Order” sign, next snapping a picture of the hotline scribbled next to the red letters.

“We play along. Make the jinn go away. Next week, she calls again.” This time he seems to have enough breath, but he doesn’t continue.

“She’s mentally ill.”, Keller states, voice pitched with disbelief.


As soon as they leave the building, Smith lights a cigarette. Deep drags, that eat up the paper and tobacco lightning fast. Keller doesn’t mind. At least, he prefers the stink of the cigarette to the odor of sweat.

“Why can’t we take her to a mental hospital?”

“She isn’t dangerous. Neither to herself nor other people. There is no reason to take her to the psychiatry.”

“But...” Smith interrupts him: “No family either. No friends. No husband. No kids. At least no one I know of.”

The officer opens the car door, crushing the cigarette under his heavy-action boots. Bottles clinking, he hoists himself in the passenger seat. However, Keller does not move to follow his example. Rolling down his window, Smith states: “Get into the car.”

“But…” Keller struggles for words. His hands clenching again and again.

“We have to help her.”

Smith takes a lasting look at him, leaning back into the darkness of the car, his deep brown eyes piercing the young officer.

“We just did.”

July 16, 2021 23:14

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