Walter turned the corner into the living room and already, Poppy was on her knees in the bathroom. She stood and, in her grasp, she held Maika Poisson in the air by her collar. Having separated her triangular bindings, Walter was certain that Poppy had been in on it the entire time and, in just a few moments, the three would take him down for good.
No matter, he continued his walk towards the bathroom as Maika began to regain consciousness for the first time since they had arrived on the scene. Silenced, she was unable to convey panic when she realised she was hovering a few feet from the ground.
Poppy nodded, “you were right, Walter. It all became hauntingly clear when you said the culprit had to be somebody that already knew Sweet Tooth’s identity. The culprit could not have pulled this scene off without prior knowledge to Sweet Tooth’s workings. They — she — had to know who was coming to this apartment and when the would arrive. Everything around us is just for show.”
“And the cameras?”
“The identity of the detective known as Sweet Tooth is an enigma; the impossible detective, working around the world. If you knew the identity of such a detective, selling the information would make you a pretty penny.”
“Tell me, Walter. If you were in her shoes, would you toy around with priceless information like that? Would you play a game and allow the detective in question a chance at stopping you?”
“Certainly not and, even if you were to give the illusion of chance, you absolutely would not follow through with your promise.”
“Look around, Walter. The cameras were shut off remotely as soon as I told her that I had solved her little case.”
He followed her orders, double checking the two small webcams planted on either side of the bathroom. For the life of him, he couldn’t remember noticing any flashing light or anything that might indicate the device was recording them at the time.
“Hold on…” Walter stepped backwards out of the room and hurried across to the computer where — just as Poppy had announced — the cameras had ceased recording. In fact, the whole website had crashed and disappeared without a trace, simply displaying an error page unable to connect to the host server.
He soon returned to the bedroom, greeted by Maika’s widened eyes. She was not playing coy, in fact, Walter could see a smile cracking beneath the tape gag in her mouth. Her hands, no longer bound, reached up and removed the last barrier between the two of them.
“Congratulations, your secret is safe for another day, friend.”
Poppy dropped the criminal to the ground where she landed with a thump against the tiles; she hadn’t made a peep about the face but perhaps that voice meant something to her. Heavily accented; Maika spoke with a fast-paced, French-Canadian rattle to her words, ending the sentence with a smile as though she could get off her charges with charm alone.
“Is something the matter, Detective?”
“What’s wrong?” asked Walter.
Poppy bent at the knees, closing the distance between hero and villain in a rather ‘book cover’ gesture of good vs. evil, ensuring that no sharp moves were made. After all, neither one of them had thought to check the ‘victim’ whilst she was unconscious.
It had been made quite clear Maika Poisson was capable of anything to force control of the situation into her own grasp.
Her injured left hand was inspected first, clearing any doubt that the amputation was genuine. “You did this to yourself?”
“I had to make it super convincing, didn’t I? If there’s one thing I remember, it’s that you love it when the solution is ten-times as complex as it needed to be.”
Their eyes in tandem flew up to one of the two webcams above them. A gesture that said, ‘you could’ve unplugged them’.
“I can still feel it every now and then,” she continued. “I can feel the weight of my ring. Do you still have it?”
“I guess you probably realised it was fake right away, right? I thought it might throw you off a little bit though.” As Maika attempted to move her other hand towards Poppy, she detected a threat. Contorting the captive limb further back than intended, Poppy cemented her unrivalled dominance. “Ah-ah-ah… I promise, I’m not armed. If you hadn’t already clocked on, I’m not trying to hurt you.”
“What do you want then?” asked Walter, since Poppy seemed to have muted herself for the moment save letting on that the two clearly recognised each other from somewhere in the world. It was like they were friends once upon a time, or maybe they were partners.
Anonymous detective buddies?
Walter placed his hand on his superior’s shoulder and Poppy retracted her weaponised grasp. Maika, playing victim again, clenched her wrist as though popping it back into place before reaching for her own neck; a silver chain sat hidden beneath her burgundy sweatshirt.
“This ring,” she said, pulling it from its hiding place, “is my most prized possession. Always has been, always will be.”
“Just a shame you didn’t treat your husband with the same respect, eh?”
“Somebody didn’t do their research, did they?” she barked at Walter, momentarily erasing all sense that the case was closed. “Who are you, anyway? One of the famous envoys that don’t actually exist? A whipping boy, perhaps?”
“I’m a detective.”
The culprit grumbled beneath her breath, “you’re new though, aren’t you?” Lifting one finger to Poppy, Maika reached into her front pocket where she fumbled for a moment. Soon, she retrieved a small piece of white card. “You’ve definitely got potential, I’ve been listening this whole time. Have my card, give me a call sometime.”
The card was left untouched in her grasp, a bridge between them just waiting to be burned by Poppy’s distaste for mockery. To Walter’s surprise, she did not respond with the short temper he had come to expect from her.
During the exchange, Maika’s sleeve had been lifted. It revealed a small tattoo on the curve of her right wrist: a triangle pointed towards her fingers and, written beneath it, the letter ’S’. Walter’s eyes panned back to towards Poppy’s forty-pence sized scar which sat in the exact same position. “Nice tattoo,” she said.
“Don’t just pretend you don’t know what’s going on!”
“It is you, isn’t it?” said Poppy, “Sunny.”
“How often do you hear that name in your sleep?”
“Never,” immediate retort from the detective, pointing out the scar where she pulled the very skin from her body to erase a former identity. “I buried those memories when I left that vile cube.”
“But you kept the name I gave you, didn’t you? Sweet Tooth, a passing comment between the voices of ghosts. Never to meet but forever ingrained in your half-truth of a persona.”
“And you’re going by Poppy now, aren’t you? I suppose that’s cuter than Phoebe but I always thought your voice suited that name to a T.”
“Don’t say that name, that is not my name.”
“It is quite close to Poppy, isn’t it? I wonder where that name originated. Oh, I’m rambling. Am I upsetting you?”
“You are testing my patience.”
“Isn’t that what they said? You always had a bit of a temper, but at least you’ve matured a little bit.”
“Okay, somebody is gonna have to fill me in because I am so lost at the moment.”
“Please shut up, Walter.”
“I wasn’t looking, which one of you said that?”
“We were friends once. When we were just voices to each other, pleasant noises in the darkness.”
“We were not friends, friends did not exist in that cesspool.”
“If you can’t tell, Walter, she didn’t enjoy our advent—.”
To thwart her sentence, Poppy launched her fist into Maika’s bared teeth. “They stole us from our homes, Maika. We were not at a summer camp so do not look back on that time with fondness. Isolated…”
“Isolated soldiers of intellect, deductive weapons. I remember, that’s what you said when you left.”
“Forced to solve the world’s puzzles day-in, day-out from a box in the middle of the ocean.” Poppy retrieved her scuffed fist to wipe away the mist from her eyes, then she continued. “What could possibly drive you to miss that past?”
Blood trickled from the centre of Maika’s upper lip where it had been split in half, sending blood to Poppy’s blouse scattering like islands as she spoke. “You’re misremembering the best days of your life,” she said. “From what I remember, we were clothed and fed and taught to be the pinnacles of our kind. Unlimited access to the toughest puzzles of the world, some of the greatest challenges played out on our screens for the betterment of civilisation! And I was stationed beside the only mind that rivalled my own.”
“You were both… child soldiers?”
Maika held the two pieces of her split lip together, turning her head slowly to Walter’s side. “I prefer prodigies. I’ve spent a long time trying to get the one called Poppy North back in my life.”
Poppy kept her own eyes on Maika; unmoving, unblinking, sucking on the inside of her cheek, and trying her best to remain stoic. This was a conversation for behind bars, Walter figured, taking it upon himself to keep things moving along.
“Poppy, let’s get a move on, yeah?” Clinking his own wrists together like champagne glasses, a celebration of a case well cracked, Walter suggested finishing up here and moving onto assisting Katja to the hospital. The culprit shook her head, she did not think it was such a good plan.
“What?” he muttered, almost snorting at the absurdity. “What are you doing? I’m not asking you, this isn’t your choice to make.” Her slack attitude made him almost uneasy like she could have anything planned to help make her escape.
Poppy felt it too, placing her fingers to her temples and playing out each possible situation in her head but… they were in a tight, enclosed space. It’s not like she was going to blow the place up with them still inside, was she?
“Let me be blunt, okay? And, if I’m honest, you’re not going to like thi—.”
That sentence wasn’t allowed to come to an end before Poppy pounced again, forcing Maika’s face into the cold white tiles and splitting her wound further up through her skin. Stifled but determined to get her message across, Maika continued, “don’t you miss the thrill? Are you comfortable just as Sweet Tooth?”
“Sweet Tooth is still a phenomenon,” explained Walter.
“A private phenomenon though. Don’t you miss the unparalleled stakes of our daily lives?”
“I am comfortable,” she maintained pressure on the back of Maika’s neck with her hand and pressing her knee into the back of the culprit’s thigh until she lost all sensation. In the heat of the moment, it was unclear whether Poppy intended snapping Maika’s neck just to shut her up but Walter was certainly tempted to lend a hand.
“Well, prepare to be shunted out of that comfort zone.”
“What are you chatting now?”
“Since I rediscovered you, I’ve had a lot of time to think. I’ve been Maika Poisson for a long time now; long enough to find my soul mate and long enough to think about our little situation, Poppy. I’ve been putting something interesting together. Something secret, something fun. A flashback to the good ol’ days, even if you don’t remember it like I do. A contest… is that the word? A challenge, maybe that works better. A challenge between the Soldiers of Intellect, the whole gang back together again.”
“Just get to the point.”
“Am I rambling again? I do that when I’m excited, you see.” The small of Maika’s back soon met the summit of Poppy’s kneecap, “ah-ah-ha, okay. It’s a new game, Walter can join too, if you think you need The greatest deductive minds of our generation, they’re all in the palm of my hand. Can you imagine it? A host of unsolvable cases at your disposal, a Detective War.”
“Oh, you can’t be serious,” Walter turned, “she can’t be serious. Why would anybody ever agree to that?”
“It’s hard to explain from this position but imagine, if you can, a life spent running on a treadmill. It’s great, it’s always a thrill ride. And then, because your neighbour decides running on a treadmill isn’t the right way to run, you have to get off. Now, you’re trapped in a world of walking… and it’s dark. It’s really dark and slow.”
“Now, imagine me: a treadmill salesperson,” Poppy reached to the back of her slacks to retrieve a set of thick metal handcuffs. With her eyes alone, she gestured for Walter to take the honour of finishing the job. He crouched by her side and Maika’s voice fell in volume, speaking only to him in little more than a whisper. “I can give you that thrill, bring your world back to the way it was before. Sunny, Stradlater, Phoebe, Gallagher, Antolini, Diamond Bee.”
A sudden attack sent Poppy shooting to her side with such force that it knocked Walter backwards, his head hitting the porcelain toilet. Standing in the detective’s place was the scarred Katja Amirmoez, her foot just then coming back down to Earth as Walter stumbled over to check Poppy was okay. On impact, it appeared Poppy lost consciousness but she was certainly still breathing, leaving the rest of their work up to Walter.
One of Maika’s hands had already been cuffed but now she was on her feet. The chainlink accessory dangled from there outstretched arm, swinging left to right. “One day, sure,” she said, “but not right now, Walter.”
It didn’t matter how quickly he was able to raise his fists to his face, or how powerful his stance was, or how easily he figured out how to disarm the situation as soon, Walter lost all control of his own body. From her sleeve, the former victim produced a pocket-sized taser and fired its needles into the amateur detective’s chest.
As Poppy before him, Walter too collapsed onto the tiles. Still aware of the passing situation, Walter let out a meagre stretch towards the culprit in a last ditch effort to arrest the bane of his last few days, but it was no use.
His body, smoking and tense, still allowed him to crawl but another shock might’ve mummified his pose. This cubed bathroom that surrounded him felt as though it stretched on for miles by the time he pulled his numb carcass to the doorway. In the murky distance, Maika Poisson stood behind the husband whose life she stole prematurely and wept.
Holding him in her arms as her partner’s anklet beeped and beeped and droned on and on, she placed a final kiss upon his blued scalp and returned to the doorway to depart her apartment for the final time; tears in her eyes, chained ring between her lips, she slipped from Sweet Tooth’s grasp with a wave.
Her assistant followed with hesitation, perhaps stilted by the sound of her own anklet which warned her of an inescapable event. Once Katja stepped outside of the apartment boundary, all sound ceased to be heard for just a second, interrupted only by a single distant shot and the impact of a stray bullet.