“Dominus illuminatio mea”
A shadow loomed beyond the flickering light of the neon Lucky Lou sign. The old bar hummed a soft jazz tune that faded into the stifling evening air. It beckoned in any weary traveler who needed shelter. Yet, Kat knew otherwise.
She stepped over a manhole as it billowed out steam like the thick fog from a demon’s breath. Her skin felt clammy against the evening air. She had been to the bar a few times before and each time it made her hands twitch with anticipation.
Eyes seemed to dart at her from every corner of the street. However, her gaze remained fixed on the shadowed figure ahead.
Kat took a deep breath, making the Velcro on her Kevlar vest crinkle under the strain. Her sources had, in fact, been correct but finding the perp had never been the issue.
“Suspect in sight,” she whispered into the radio on her shoulder strap. Kat readied her Colt pistol and called to the fugitive, “This is Officer Katharine de La Motte. You are under arrest. Place your hands above your head and don’t make any sudden movements.”
The cloaked man darted to the side, raising a large handgun.
Shots rang out into the air. Each ready to claim her life in an instant.
Kat ducked, then steadied her sight and flipped off the safety. She ground her teeth, firing a return shot.
The perp ducked behind a large metal trash container and fired again.
She rolled to the edge of the building and stumbled as something skimmed off her side. A glancing blow wouldn’t be the end, but it would cost her. A shower of bullets whizzed by her and ricocheted off the wall.
Kat brushed away a few strands of dark hair and rose to her feet. She bared her teeth, returning fire, and edged behind a group of stacked crates. More shots echoed out further down the shadowed alley.
“Dammit.” Kat tensed waiting for her moment, then sprinted up the lane as the gunman paused.
A mother and daughter cowered behind a trash can to her left. The fear in the young girl’s eyes renewed her as she dashed by.
Kat turned away, blinking at the shadows ahead and darted forward. She grabbed the baton from her belt as another shadowed assailant lunged for her. The rod collided with his temple. She readied her weapon for another attack. However, he collapsed on the ground before he could lay a finger on her.
“Behind you,” the woman shrieked.
Kat knocked away a sawed-off shotgun, then elbowed the gunman in the face. The young girl with her mother screamed as two more shots plowed into Kat’s back.
“Shit.” She stumbled to her knees. Her carelessness would cost her everything. There was no going back from hits like that. She glanced up to meet the eyes of a third man. His teeth shown in a fierce grin against the fading lights.
“Your concern for others gets you every time,” said the graveled voice.
Kat sighed and stood.
Lights burst on, illuminating the small alley. Plastic mannequins and recordings rolled back to starting positions. A few other men in police uniforms came to inspect the damages. Kat adjusted her own vest and spied a tinge of orange paint on her sleeve.
Too careless with her own safety. She rolled her eyes with a heavy sigh.
The man before her had Sargent stripes on his shoulders and a grateful amount of silver hair. In her line of work, the end accomplishment for every officer was reaching retirement age.
“You have to focus more on your own safety. Unless you are just doing this so we can all start the day with free entertainment?”
“Yeah, I know,” Kat grumbled with a smirk. “I’m just doing this for the sake of a good laugh. I have such a big heart, so here, let me help you with yours.” She aimed the paintball gun at the grinning officer.
“Hey.” He raised his hands in surrender. “Come on now. Is that any way to treat your superior? You know I was kidding.” He kept his sympathetic smile. And, they both knew she wouldn’t shoot him.
She returned his grin holstering her weapon. “I guess that’s true, Maxen. It’s a good thing it’s your turn to bring the ice cream to the luncheon this week.”
Officer Maxen lowered his hands and blinked. “Hey, wait. I thought it was your turn.”
She smirked and pulled at the Velcro straps on her vest. “Not anymore.”
It was nice of him to try and cheer her up, yet the truth remained. It was her last semester in training for her degree. She had to recover. Or, wait another year and try again.
Kat ground her teeth at the thought of waiting to retake her Officer test. She didn’t bother to inquire about her score. Instead, she headed for the lockers and shower before changing back to her civilian clothes. She toweled her long dark hair, then tied it into a tight braid down her back. Her jeans and t-shirt breathed with a refreshing air after the confines of her uniform and vest. Kat checked her phone. It blinked with a reminder for her criminology test.
“Life needs to stop kicking me while I’m down.” She groaned and slammed the locker shut. “I hope Andie has time to help me study.” Kat picked up her backpack and headed out the door, only then, realizing she had forgotten to bring anything for breakfast. “Great, it’s gonna be one of those days.”
The remainder of the morning passed by in a blur. It consisted of more and more coffee, and a steady stream of practice questions for the exam. Andie, her best friend, hadn’t been available to meet, but had sent her a text message every couple of minutes with a new piece of trivia for the test. They had been paired up as study buddies during Kat’s first semester in college and it had worked out so well that they kept it up for the last three years.
The current semester, in particular, had been rough for both of them, however rough for Andie was more like she actually had to study, whereas for Kat, if she didn’t study every waking moment, she wouldn’t even get into the above fifty percent mark for the class. That didn’t mean she didn’t do well in her classes, just that the information didn’t come as natural to her as it did for others.
As soon as Kat sat down at the desk, her palms began to sweat. She glanced over at her friend and sighed. Andie had on a green school spirit hoodie and had her own to-go cup of coffee sitting on her desk. She looked as calm and collected as ever.
“So not fair,” Kat grumbled to herself.
After what seemed like only five minutes the professor stood from his swivel chair at the front of the large room.
Kat paused, then laid her pencil down. Two hours had never flown by so quickly. She glanced up at the long faces around her. The only cheerful person stood at the front of the large lecture hall and had not participated in that beating of a test.
Professor Vollmer held his usual smile as each student turned in their midterm packet on the desk. He wore a faded blue sweater, which he swore would bring his students luck on testing day. Nonetheless, they had their own opinion about him. Despite his sweater, the students still experienced a less than fifty percent pass rate.
Kat gathered her bag and papers. She rose, making her way through the crowd of students. If only she had listened to the reviews at the start of the semester, everyone had told her to switch classes. Unfortunately, it was the only time she could take this class and still work part-time, not to mention training at the academy. She wasn’t as lucky as other students. They had their parents pay for everything.
Kat had needed parents for something like that to work.
She and her older brother, Michael, had grown up since the age of four without them. Their great-uncle Charles had raised them through their teenage years. Yet, the term ‘raised’ could only be used loosely. That was because he was away more often than not, leaving the maids to care for them.
It had been months since she’d seen her brother after he had decided to travel after they graduated from high school. Someone had to be the responsible one, so she’d left for college, but each new picture on his blog was just another stab of regret. She had wanted to run off and see the world, yet her mind always insisted that it was the childish thing to do.
A tap on her shoulder snapped her from her thoughts. Kat turned to see Andie.
“How did you do?”
Kat grimaced, wiping away the clammy sweat on her palms and shrugged. “I got through section six at least.”
“Wow, that’s almost as far as I got. I bet you are one of the lucky ones who passed.” She smoothed her dark, wavy hair.
Kat had always been envious of her best friend in the sense that she only had to wake up in the morning to look amazing. Andie always got compliments on her looks and didn’t have to exude any effort other than taking a bath regularly. If Kat didn’t spend at least a half hour, shaving, plucking, exfoliating, then she was sure no one would be able to tell her apart from a swamp monster. Okay, maybe that was a bit much, but still, it was annoying.
“I doubt it. You passed his exam last time, so I’m sure you are fine.”
They walked up to the large desk and set their papers on the pile. Dr. Vollmer beamed at them, and Kat forced a smile in return. She wanted to punch him in his smug face, but that wouldn’t get her a passing grade for sure.
“Wasn’t that your last midterm?” Andie asked, tucking her pencils into her bag.
“Yeah, thankfully. My head’s about to explode. I don’t want to look at another paper for a week.”
Andie grinned and nudged her shoulder. “Well, thank goodness, we have the week off for spring break then.”
“Yeah, about that…” Kat hung her head as they walked up the stairs and out of the classroom.
“Don’t tell me you have to work.”
“It’s not that. My manager insisted that I take the week off, actually.”
“What is it then?”
Kat sighed and pulled out her phone, retrieving an email. “Mary, one of my uncle’s employees, emailed me yesterday and said I needed to stop by the main house tomorrow. It’s apparently important. Kind of a life or death thing.”
“Really?” Andie leaned over and glanced at the email. “Did she say what it is?”
Kat shook her head and put her phone back in her pocket. “Nope, only that they wanted to tell me in person. So, I’m taking the train out there tonight.”
“Yeah, it’s cheaper than flying, and I like the scenery.”
Andie raised an eyebrow. “If you say so. What about renting a car?”
Kat gave a morbid laugh. “I actually looked into that, and it would be twice as expensive as the train.”
Andie nodded. “Okay, well let’s go to dinner then. My treat. We can celebrate our tests being over and done with.”
“Till finals in a couple months.”
“Shhhhh.” Andie made a hand gesture to a closed mouth. “Don’t ruin the moment. Come on. They just opened up a new sushi place next to the science building.”
Kat smiled and followed her out into the blinding sun of the afternoon.
The relaxing vibe of the sushi place helped her to ease her stress level. She hadn’t wanted to leave, but she only had an hour left to pack before needing to head to the platform. A small piece of her hoped for a stress-free week, yet the sinking feeling in her gut made it seem otherwise. Especially since she had left out her suspicion about the email; it had the familiar vague and displaced wording that she had experienced once before.
Someone she knew had died.