Charlie thought he blinked. When it happened again, he blinked really hard a couple of times just to make sure it wasn’t his mind playing tricks on him. When he looked up, he saw the filament burning bright yellow inside the clear light bulb…
And then it went out.
He finished the rest of his double-glazed doughnut and wiped his fingers on the sleeve of his uniform before dialing a number.
“Yeah? Tony?” Charlie could still feel scattered doughnut crumbs in his mouth. “Light’s out in docs. Fix someone to have it looked at, will ya? Thanks.”
At the front desk, Tony put the phone down and sighed. So there goes his 5-hour streak of doing nothing. He might as well do something anyway. It was just one of those days that nothing seemed exciting enough to do, and nothing exciting happened at the same time.
The sound of the rain greeted him when he pushed the front door open. The mid-afternoon rain came rushing in with the strong winds outside. Tony shut the door and went back to his desk. Not today, he decided.
He called Andy.
Andy had been shadowing a lad named Gregory all week long. Suspecting the boy of dealing narcotics, they searched his car twice and house once in the past two months alone, but found nothing. Andy was sent to follow him to catch him in the middle of an incriminating act. There has been nothing so far.
The rain came after he had been waiting around the corner of Gregory’s house for forty-three minutes. And when the April showers came, they came in torrents. The world outside was a sea of melting grey. For all he knew, Gregory might have slipped right by his cruiser, and he would have been none the wiser. But when you had a job, you had a job.
His phone rang. It was Tony.
“Andy. Crazy rain, eh?”
Andy sighed. “This is the second time this week I’m getting doughnuts, mate. Look, I don’t mind popping by the store, but you guys have got to at least chip in-“
“No, no, no. Nothing of that sort. Well. Not doughnuts, at least. Charlie’s in the docs and the light went out or something. Strange thing, he hasn’t come out since. Think you could grab a couple spare bulbs on your way back? 50-watt, 60-watt, doesn’t matter.”
Some grumbling. “Fine,” Andy said. “But you pay for the next round of doughnuts.”
“Sure thing. And don’t forget the receipt.”
Andy killed the call. It was another two and a half hours before he could call it a day and report back. Surely Charlie had things he had to get done. Unless he was using the dead bulb as an excuse to weasel out of doing actual work.
He fumed at the thought. The bulb could not wait.
Laura was just done saving the laundry from the rain when her mobile rang.
“For crying out loud, Andy,” she said when she picked up the call. “It’s my off day.”
“I know. I know. But this is kinda urgent.”
“Well. No. But-“
“Good afternoon to you, then,” she said, then left the phone lying face-down on the tabletop without shutting the call.
The doorbell rang. She opened the door to find a tall lad standing there in a navy raincoat. He flashed a smile at her. He also flashed a handgun.
“Hello, ma’am,” Gregory said.
He made her sit down in her favorite chair, far from where her phone laid face-down on the tabletop. She prayed to God that Andy was, for whatever reason, still listening on the other end. Gregory pulled the hood of his raincoat back, revealing a rain-soaked tussle of orange hair.
“Listen to me,” he said. “I need your help.”
Around the corner from Gregory’s house, Andy scrolled through his list of contacts, wondering who he could call next. Laura had always been so cold, anyway. The sting of her last rejection when he asked her out for dinner hasn’t quite faded still.
A text came in from Tony.
“Hey buddy. Forgot you were on shadow duty. No worries, we’ll see if the rain lets up. If it does and I go get it, I’ll send you a message. Cheerios.”
He tried to look up at the sky through the windscreen. He could barely make out the outlines of the houses right in front of him. The rain didn’t look like it was going to let up any time soon.
“Ah, to hell with it,” Andy said to himself and started up the engine.
When the doors opened to the sound of the roaring rain, Tony was surprised to see Laura walking in.
“Just couldn’t stay away for long, huh?” he jested. Laura paid him no attention and went straight to the back. He shook his head. What was new?
At least he didn’t try and actually ask her out, like Andy did. He could still laugh at how brutally she turned him down, but mingled in his mirth was a sharp jab of melancholy. At least Andy tried, you know. He had the guts to approach Laura and spill the words out. Unlike some of us here.
Tony scrunched up his face and focused on resuming to do nothing.
“One… There we go,” Andy pressed the note onto the counter, then took the light bulb and left. The worst of the rain had passed, and the streets were brighter now without the dark clouds. The shower was still coming in steadily, however. He got back into the cruiser and started driving.
Charlie blinked in the sudden light. Had he been asleep? His groggy head said yes. His mouth opened to say no. He heard the clicking of the light switch, and then he heard Laura sigh.
“What happened to the lights?”
“Dunno,” he shrugged. “They went out.”
“And you didn’t think to fix it?”
“I did,” Charlie said. “It was the first thing I thought of, in fact.”
“Good to know.”
“I told Tony about it, and he said he’ll handle it.”
“Really?” Laura folded her arms. “Because Tony’s sitting right outside doing nothing.”
“He probably got someone else to do it. Say, aren’t you supposed to be off today?”
“Change of plans. Got a flashlight I can borrow?”
Tony was still melancholy when the doors opened and Andy stepped in. Andy placed the new bulb in front of him.
The two men stared at each other for a while, saying nothing.
“Well,” Andy said finally. “Back to work.”
And then he went out the door and into the pouring rain again.
When Laura pulled the file out of the cabinet and walked out the door, Charlie was sure that it was against regulations, but he could not say for sure. Laura definitely knew the regulations a lot better than him – who was he to tell her otherwise?
Laura’s exit was blocked off by Tony.
“I need to tell you something,” he said, breathing heavily.
“Not a good time,” she said, and then tried to step around him. He cut off her exit again.
“It’s rather important.”
“I’m sure it can wait.”
Tony drew a deep breath. “I’m in love with you, Laura,” he said. “Truly, madly, deeply. And you might think of me as a lazy, unattractive, good-for-nothing, and you will be right. But you inspire me. You make me want to be a better man. And I know this might not be what you wanted at all, seeing how you turned Andy down the last time, but with all the courage I have, these are things that I must say, and – is that a suspect file?”
Laura clouted him hard on the side of his head, and he dropped to the floor, out cold.
Instead of heading back to haunt Gregory’s house corner, Andy decided to drive over to Laura’s place. His expression of surprise was only matched by Gregory’s when he pressed the doorbell and the lad answered the door with a gun in hand.
There was no time to think. Andy tackled Gregory before he could move.
There were gunshots, like the sound of hammers striking wood in a small room.
When Laura pulled her car up and found her front door open, she knew that something was terribly wrong. Instead of creeping in like she was in a typical Hollywood thriller, she went up to her neighbor, Miss Elise Rosenbaum’s door and knocked. The wrinkled old lady answered the door.
“Miss Rosenbaum, how do you do?” Laura mustered the sweetest smile she could.
“You still haven’t returned my frying pan!” the old lady said. Laura grit her teeth. She had been hoping that Miss Rosenbaum would develop amnesia, or dementia, and forget all about the frying pan. What happened was wholly unfortunate, to say the least.
“It will return to you soon, good as new,” Laura promised.
“I don’t see how it can. That thing is as old as this house.”
“Might you have a rifle just lying around? Firearms of any sort,” Laura said. “Just purely out of curiosity. And – hypothetically speaking – if I were to ask you to lend it to me, would you? Assuming – hypothetically speaking – that my life was in danger and by proxy, yours could be as well. And under the assumption that between the two of us, I’m the one better equipped to handle firearms.”
Miss Rosenbaum gave her a strange look. Then she lifted her chin, her mouth forming an o-shape, like she just remembered something.
“Frank used to have just the thing, but I’m not sure if it’s any good. Come on in…”
Tony had gotten quite well-acquainted with the floor when his eyes fluttered open. There was some blood on the ground as well, though he could not tell whose. Or if it had been there all week. The little details escaped him.
There was something about a light bulb, yes. That was how it started. But how did it end with him lying face-down on the floor? Someone must have hit him. That would explain the pain on the side of his head. Who would hit him, though? And what for?
He shook his head, and immediately realized what a bad mistake it was. A wrecking pain exploded inside his head. For all the pain it caused him, though, a metaphorical light bulb flicked on in his mind.
“I arrest you in the name of the law” was what Andy was trying to go for. But with his lip split, his face swollen, and his tongue bitten to ribbons by his own teeth, the best he could do was, “Irish Stu in ge gname o’ de gaw.”
Andy had Gregory pinned to the floor of Laura’s living room. He twisted the lad’s arm behind his back and put cuffs around his wrists.
There was a rattling sound, like chains. Andy looked up and found himself staring at what appeared to be a full-sized minigun.
On instinct, he put his hands up to surrender. When faced with a person pointing a minigun at you, the only option was to surrender, no questions asked.
“Andy?” Laura’s voice.
“Laura?” Andy tried, but what came out was more like “Vova?”
Then came the sound of wailing sirens, and in through the open door streamed in special ops, all of them dressed in black from head to toe and carrying rifles aimed at Laura.
“DROP YOUR WEAPON!” one of them screamed at her. “DO IT NOW!”
Laura dropped the minigun without a word and fell to the floor with her hands on her head.
Back at the station, Charlie stepped out to the front and found the brand new light bulb sitting on Tony’s table.
“He had it all this time?” Charlie shook his head. He took the bulb and went to look for a ladder.