There are strangely erotic objects made out of wood. On the back of one is a detailed image. A lion has its claws dug into the back of a grandfather clock, and it looks across the room. Smaller wall clocks are scattered about the ground underneath him. Faces and hands are mutilated and strewn about.
Then the back is taken away. Object police kick down the door. Frankie-boy wanders in like a lost child and he starts marking things off of the checklist on his clipboard. He leads with his nose, sniffling sparsely, overly conscious of every sound that he makes. "Frankie-boy, do you have that little booklet they give you at the beginning of the job? Do you know what you're doing?" There's no need to keep it around. A good man doesn't look at the list, he can feel when something is an object and when it isn't. Or when it's a real object or a fake object. "Did you make this or did you buy it?" The owner is bumbling to himself. Chairs are real objects. This is the clear and informed response. Is this a chair? Or maybe, has a chair been real for too long? There is a mortality to objects, unfortunately. The wooden body can only be a chair for so long before it loses its significance.
The trash heap is an orgy of the discarded bodies, piles of wooden backs and legs all tangled together in some unifying matter. They're all inseparable from one another. "How long have you had this guy for? A decade or two?" The owner doesn't know how to stop bumbling. He can't manage a word, so Frankie-boy starts tapping the frame with his pen. Maybe a fake object would start to get hollow over time. Are the object police a real force? Are they the left hand of the government? It's hard to say if they have any real power or not. The Pentagon doesn't talk about them. Frankie-boy does his job. He's a dull man with short, fat hands, but he does a real job.
The frame sounds hollow, and the images on his back are peculiar. What does the lion want with all of these clocks? Is it a diversion from the point? Is the beast worried about lost time? Or something else just as aphoristic? Frankie-boy ran through his head, looking for the right proverb. "It's easier to kill time than to let it keep marching on?" It's a distraction. Is the chair real? Lions don't know these things. The owner manages to point to the underside of the seat. Frankie-boy looks at the owner, then the chair. He nods apathetically and feels around the bottom, pulls a note out and latches it onto the clipboard. It says, "Real chair provided by real chair men."
He acknowledges the card, waving it at the owner. "You're an ontologist." Frank is not. He's the object police. His job is all about 'if' and not 'how.' He catalogues objects, says what they are, and then concludes whether or not they're the real thing they're supposed to be. If they are, he takes note of it and marks it down, and if they're not, takes note of it and marks it down. "Do you know how long this guy has been around? He's part of the community. I wave to him every morning." Onlookers have begun to hover around the scene of the inspection.
The ambiguity of the department's ties to the government cause them to have less regulatory power. If they ask a passerby to back away from the scene, they're asked to prove that they have the power to say so. When someone asks them, they quietly return to the job. "What's his name?" One of the onlookers thought for a moment, "Tom, I think." Frankie-boy marked this down on his clipboard.
"He's a real chair then?" It doesn't work that way. Frankie-boy marks it down regardless. In this case, a chair is a chair. It's a real chair. Old, but real nonetheless. Age hasn't taken his objectivity yet. It's only engendered the poor thing with a strangely erotic power. The first time Frankie-boy inspected a chair, his superiors warned him about inspecting the object too closely. Certain types give off certain auras after all. You don't want to fall victim to the seductive tendencies of a chair, all of the smooth surfaces and strong limbs. They hold onto you.
He often remembers the images of the trash heap, of all those tangled objects that have slowly deformed over time into some strange amalgamation. He wonders how long it takes for something like this to happen. It's always presented as this warning, far in the future, this idea that eventually those chairs will all coagulate together into some unending orgy. He imagined this scenario as the afterlife: when you die, your body slowly combines with all of those around you and it makes you one with your surroundings. You become part of a collective.
Frankie-boy shook hands with the owner. "Thank you. Here's your receipt. Sorry to take up your time like this." The owner smiled and nodded, still bumbling to himself, more happily now than earlier. Frankie-boy tucked the pen back into his pocket and walked out to the company car. He sat in the passenger seat and started a new form, putting in all of the basic information. "Was it real?" The driver said. "Sure it was. A chair's a chair, Rob."
2. Water Fountain/Drinking Fountain/Bubbler
"This is the debate I'm having with myself right now: I can see one thing, but I'm being told that it's three distinct things, and I'm not sure what that says about the status of the object, or its reality." The bureaucrat tapped his pen against his clipboard, thinking. Frankie-boy snapped his fingers and his co-worker handed the information over. "The first idea that came to mind was that it may be compensating. It's trying to hide the fakery by overcompensating." Frank walked around the object.
It was a shallow metal bowl clung onto a wall. A faucet sat on the side with a button to turn it on and off. He pressed the button and watched the water spit over the bowl and onto the ground. Frankie-boy looked around the room. "See. It's too many things, and it's busted anyways." The problem here was a bit more layered than it tends to be. Frankie-boy got a certain amount of thrill out of this. It wasn't visible on his face, but the mundanities of his standard checklist were useless here. There was a more direct line of questions to answer. 1. Can a real object be more than one thing at a time? Can one thing be three things? 2. Does being real mean being functional? Is a broken arm still a real arm, or does the break somehow take away its reality?
Frankie-boy pressed the button again. Water began to pool on the ground. "Is the water coming out of it real?" The bureaucrat squatted down next to the puddle. Can a real object make fake objects? Or vice versa? Real people can make fake chairs, or fake clocks. Why wouldn't a real drinking fountain know how to make fake water? Or a fake fountain know how to make real water?
"The water looks real to me." Frankie-boy nodded, "Is it actually real though?" The bureaucrat shrugged. These are problems that arise during the inspection process. It all spawns from the way the department was assembled. An office just appeared one day. No one took up the task of mapping out how to accurately assess an object. They sent these bureaucrats out into the city with clipboards and a stack of forms. No one bothered to clarify how these things were meant to be done. It's all been built on assumptions and leaps in logic.
Every officer is left to make their own decisions on what is and isn't real. "Taste it," said Frankie-boy. The bureaucrat hesitantly dipped his gloved finger in the water and touched a droplet to his tongue. "It tastes like water." Frank rubbed his temples. He pressed the button again, thinking for some reason that maybe something would be strange about the way that the water projected out of it. It's possible that a fake object is built in a rush; that some aspect of it has been made the wrong way. This is often how the object police are able to spot the difference. When a fake object is made properly, in a manner identical to the real thing, it tends to go unseen and live a normal life.
Onlookers began to assemble around the scene. "Can I use the bubbler?" Frank pointed to another drinking fountain across the room, next to the other bathroom. The other bureaucrat measured the shape of the metal bowl and the arc of the water stream. "Is the fault in design caused by the lack of legitimacy?" Frank shook his head, "It seems too obvious." He ran his hand along the smooth surface and down along the tubes that moved the water into the faucet, and out through the drain. It had the right texture, and it was the right color. He felt around the underside for a label or some kind of identification. There was a company logo, but no phone numbers or emails or websites. It was unmarked for the most part, lacking clear information. He felt the surface again. "It feels real."
"Then it is real," murmured one of the onlookers. Everybody thinks they can do your job better than you. Especially something like this. Everybody thinks they can tell an object from a subject, or a real one from a fake one. It's the first thing you learn when you come out of the womb, before you can even walk, you learn that there are things around you, that aren't you, and that if they're real, you can interact with them. What all of these bastards don't know is the nuances of a good fake. Frankie-boy can tap the surface, or even just give it a good look, and usually he'll know. But then there are situations like this, where a fake might be so good, that it's practically real. But there's always one small mistake that a forgery forgets to replicate.
"There's no phone number on the company logo," Frank said. The bureaucrat walked over and pulled out his phone. He typed the company name in the search bar. "They're out of Sweden. I've got a phone number." He clicked on it and put the phone up to his ear. Frankie-boy snapped his fingers and the bureaucrat handed him the phone. A couple of rings, and then an answer. It was an automated voice on a customer service line. Frank went through the first couple of rounds of introductory questions, until finally a real person answered. "Hello, how can we help you?" He explained the circumstances, and the customer service rep was quick to walk him through the process, explaining the lack of American offices, and the way that these models tend to be cheap enough that a malfunction leads to replacement rather than repair. Frank nodded and took notes on the clipboard.
When the call finished, he hung up and handed the phone back to the other bureaucrat. "It's real. The manufacturers are just a bit lazy. Before you call for a second hand, check for fucking labels, please. It's a simple fix." The bureaucrat blushed with embarrassment and nodded.
3. Cup of Coffee
Real objects have a habit of breaking. Entropy picks them apart over time until they end up as a pile of trash. In the morning, before he goes to work, Frankie-boy looks in the mirror at his body, which has begun to slowly decay. His skin is stretched by the fat above his hips, his face has begun to sag, his eyes have sunken in. It reminds him of his own mortality, and that real objects can be made poorly. Being real isn't the same as being built well. Fake objects aren't burdened with the infinite amount of signifiers that tend to stick themselves onto the real ones. They are not limited to one identity.
Frankie-boy is a man, an officer, a bastard, and a chubby body getting out of the car. He saw yellow tape in front of the cafe doors and a series of 'closed' signs plastered across the front window. A couple of passers-by stopped to look at the going-ons, checking if the place was closed for some unusual reason. Frank knocked on the door. "Object police. I got a call from the owner about some kind of discrepancy." A woman rushed him into the building and then quickly closed the door. She led him behind the counter to a large and expensive coffee machine.
Under the nozzle was a small mug filled halfway with espresso. "What's your name?" Mary. "Is this a latte?" It was going to be a latte, but Mary had noticed something out of the ordinary about the drink. She couldn't place the particular reason that it seemed odd, but she looked at it and this strange feeling came over her. Something was off about the way it looked, or the way it felt in her hand. It wasn't the right temperature, or shape, or consistency. It might've been a fake porcelain mug, or decaf instead of espresso. She thought she'd call the object police, have them come over, see if there was anything to the feeling.
"It's all about feelings," Frankie-boy said. "Most of the time you know it's fake because your gut's telling you it is." He set down the clipboard on the counter and lowered himself next to the counter. He tapped the side of the mug and watched the liquid swish around. He felt the porcelain against his finger, gauged the temperature. "Can you pour the milk into the cup? I want to see it as it's supposed to be. It's hard to tell if something's fake when it's unfinished." Mary nodded and grabbed the steamed milk out of the machine. She poured it over the espresso. Frank watched the way the liquids mixed together, occasionally moving the cup very slightly to see them move together.
He dipped his finger in. "I don't know if we're getting the same feeling. It seems real to me." Frankie-boy took a sip of the latte, swishing it around in his mouth, running it over his tongue and against his cheek. "It tastes like a latte." Mary nodded hesitantly. Frank took another sip. He stood up and grabbed the clipboard, marking down a couple notes and checking various marks off of the list. "I'm going to mark this down as real. Liquids are hard to fake. You have to make it move the same way and have that same kind of give. It's a hard task, and for the most part, it's not worth the trouble." He tore a receipt copy off of the clipboard form and handed it to her. Mary slowly reached out to take it. "How worth it would it have to be?"
Frank said, "I remember one case, it was a couple of years ago in Milwaukee. Someone was trying to replace Lake Michigan with a fake version. I don't know what they were gonna do with the real one, or why they wanted to take it, but we got word of it from an informant and tracked the guy down. We kicked down his door and found this lab hidden behind a false wall. There were all of these measuring instruments spread about, and these complex software programs on his computer. I don't know what his endgame was. There's a lot of strange people out there making strange things." Mary nodded.
Frankie-boy entered the scene with bad posture, slouched shoulders, tiredly holding his clipboard. He sat down at a bench by the lakeshore. He checked his watch, occasionally looking around. Pedestrians walked the cement path, glancing at him and then moving on. "You're an ontologist." Frankie-boy was not. He didn't have the education for it. You've got to have a certain of know-how to deduce how something exists. All Frank has to do is know if it does. He's in a yes or no position. He doesn't need a real reason to answer one way or the other. If they held officers accountable for things like this, they'd end up driving the entire department into the ground.
"I have an issue." A young man sat down next to Frank. "I was walking by the lake and one of the geese was looking at me funny. Can you help me?" He pointed at the shore where a family of geese was swimming around in circles. They honked and fluttered their wings. Frank said, "Which one is it?" The young man pointed at one that had decided to rest on the shore, away from the others. Frankie-boy walked over to the goose; the young man hid partially behind him as they approached. It sat on the sand bank looking around calmly. The feathers on its back were ruffled and one of the wings seemed to be injured. Its other rested normally, but the one was held slightly above the ground. Whenever the bird would start to relax and lower its wing, the first feather would touch the ground and the goose would quickly lift it back up. "He was looking at you funny?" The young man nodded.
Frank hesitantly started to inspect the bird, delicately moving around the feathers and running his finger over its bill. It snapped at him and he pulled his hand back. "I think it's a real goose, buddy." The young man frowned and said, "He looked at me weird." Frank nodded and felt around the feathers again. He reached towards the wing and the goose snapped at him again. "Real geese can give you a funny look. They do that sometimes."
Something crashed in the city behind them. There was a loud and exploding sound. Frank and the young man both jolted back. Smoke began to rise in the distance, initially hidden within the skyline, it began to swallow up the roofs. They looked at each other. Frank pulled out his phone and quickly dialed the department phone number, still watching the rising smoke, listening for another crash. "There was an explosion. Did you hear it? . . . . What happened? . . . How far away were you from it? . . . I'm at Stanford Park . . . I was working another inspection . . . It wasn't us? . . . Who?" Frank nodded and hung up the phone.
He looked over at the young man and said, "Someone set off a bomb in the FLC building downtown. I don't know why." The young man's eyes were stuck on the smoke. It went from gray to black, rising up in thick clouds out of the skyline. "What does that mean for us?" said the young man. Frank looked back at the goose, he thought for a moment and then he shrugged, "The day just keeps going, I guess. You can't let something horrible like this put the world at a stand-still." The young man watched the skyline. "There's no good reason to just stop and look at it for too long." The sound of ambulance and police sirens grew louder in the distance. Frank sat back down on the park bench.
They leaned against the car inconspicuously, ignoring any possible attention that they might draw. "One of the news stations was trying to pin this on the department. I don't get it. Our offices aren't even close to the FLC building, Frankie-boy. And we don't have unmarked cars. We aren't the police. How would we get away with it?" Henry leaned against the company car. "If it was one of us, it would've had to be some radicalized bastard working on his own accord. We don't get that kind of power." Frank nodded, drinking a cup of coffee, looking out across the street.
After lunch, they'd received a call about a bird's nest sitting in a tree on Sumac Street. It was one of the trees planted on the sidewalk with metal grates around the base. One of the groundskeepers for the city was trimming the lower branches and he noticed the nest. It was perched in a strange spot at the top of the canopy, looking out over the street. It could see into all of the windows of the surrounding office buildings. Henry shook his head, "It's a shame what happened." Three eggs sat in a triangular formation inside the nest, and a blue jay came and went sparingly, sometimes with food and sometimes without.
The man who called in for the inspection noted that at midday the bird seemed to sit in the nest and look around at all of the working businesses. Employees would look down at the nest, see that they were being watched, and they'd get back to work, a bit more nervous than they had been. The man said that he had not agreed to any kind of surveillance and that the city, or the object police if it was them, had no right to be watching people like this. A real blue jay would eat and sleep and fly around. It wouldn't watch employees working in their cubicles. He said that there's no way that bird could be real.
Frank walked across the street to the tree and began to inspect the bark. "What kind of tree is this? A sumac?" Henry shook his head and said, "It might be a hawthorn. I don't think sumacs grow here. What kind of trees do blue jays nest in?" Henry went back to the car and opened up the trunk, pulling a folded stepping ladder out and jogging it back to the tree. Frank unfolded it and climbed up, taking his time to make sure that he didn't disrupt the nest or break any of the branches. "It was a real shame, Frankie-boy. I wish it hadn't of happened." Frank nodded and said, "It was a real shame, Henry." Frank poked his head through the canopy of the tree, slowly reaching his hands around the sides. He slowly and delicately felt the sides of the nest, checking if the twigs felt like twigs, or if it had been a single unit, molded to look like the sum of its parts.
The blue jay ignored him. It looked out at all of the windows, slowly rotating its head, pointing its beak at the various floors and the cubicles inside. Workers occasionally looked out their windows, noticed the nest, and the man inspecting it, they returned to work, or continued to pretend as if they were working, glancing down to see if the surveillance was over, or if they had to remain cautious.
Frank looked at the bird. It acted mechanically, chirping at consistent intervals and only moving its head. The blue jay was focused on looking. Frank nudged Henry, who was holding the ladder steady. Frank crouched down, "This is looking suspicious to me." Henry said, "Do you think we've got something here?" Frank said, "I do. Someone misinterpreted the word. They built a panoptic nest, the kind that wants to endlessly observe everyone, but they meant to build a bird's nest. It's sloppy. The bird isn't concerned about the right things. The eggs are carelessly placed and he hardly ever leaves for food." Frank sat down on the folding ladder. "To be honest with you, that bird shouldn't even be here. You'd think an explosion like that would've scared it out of the city. Do you want to give it a look?" Henry nodded. Frank got off of the ladder and held the base steady as the other officer climbed up and peeked his head out of the treetop. He looked for a moment and then climbed back down.
"It's sloppy," Henry said. They folded up the ladder and walked back to the car. Henry put it back in the trunk, and Frank sat down in the passenger seat. He pulled out his phone and dialed one of the phone numbers at the top of his clipboard forms. He filled out the information as it rang. "We're calling in for a deconstruction. There's a nest in the second tree on Oak Street. Just past where it intersects with Sumac Ave. We ran through a standard inspection and we've assessed it as fake. If you want to send a crew over, we can wait for you. . . Thanks. . . Yeah. See ya soon." Frankie-boy hung up the phone and got out of the car. He stood next to Henry. "We have a crew on its way over. We're going to wait it out for a couple minutes. They'll come and deconstruct it." Henry nodded, "Right. Good."
Henry said, "Do they know anything about what happened at the FLC? Who blew it up or why?" Frank shrugged, "It always takes a little bit. I've been trying not to think about it. It's good just to finish up the day and then worry about these things when you get home." Henry nodded. The two men waited around, looking at the various cars passing by, keeping an eye on the tree, seeing if the bird acted any different or if it warranted a second look.
After ten or so minutes, another company car pulled up. Henry waved them over to the tree. A crew of four men got out, all wearing coveralls and latex gloves. They took a step ladder out of the trunk. Frank watched as one of the men climbed up, grabbed the nest and set it on the hood of the car. They ran through a checklist on their own clipboards, slowly disassembling the twigs, unweaving them and placing them loose in a plastic bag. The crew leader walked over to Frank. "Did you note what kind of material this is?" Frank shook his head. "We didn't have the equipment to check it. We thought it was authentic wood, but you'd have to run the tests." The crew leader nodded and returned to the nest.
Frank watched as they placed the eggs in small bags, and unlatched the bird's feet from one of the twigs, before putting it in its own bag. They placed the bags all in a large bin and closed the trunk, discarding their gloves and getting back into the car.
The crew leader walked back to where Frank and Henry were standing. "I need you two to sign these forms. Verify that you called in for the deconstruction and that you followed the proper procedures. All that jazz." Frank and Henry signed the forms. "Thank you."
Frank walked into the scene. It was a small room with clean walls and floors. There was an old man lying down in bed, looking half-asleep and worried. Another officer, Allen, stood over him, asking questions and filling out the forms on his clipboard. Frank approached. "What's going on?" Allen set his clipboard down on the nightstand. "It's a real shame what happened downtown earlier." He sighed. Frank agreed and Henry continued, "We got a call from this man about a discrepancy. He said that he got into bed, pulled up his blanket, and then realized that he couldn't remember where he bought it from. He said that he's worried he might be being held hostage."
"That's a duvet," said Frankie-boy. Allen nodded, "Right" and they walked back over to the bed. The hostage tried not to move as he came to, finally waking up completely, murmuring to himself. The room's walls were empty of any memorabilia. There were no family photos, or paintings that a relative or a friend might have made. "How are you, sir?" Frank said. The old man looked him up and down. "I'm worried I can't trust this thing. It's holding onto me pretty tight, and I don't want to agitate it by wrinkling up the sides." Frank nodded.
"When you bought it, was it a comforter or a duvet?" The hostage thought for a moment, "I think it was a duvet." The two officers looked at one another. Allen took his clipboard off of the night stand and scribbled down a couple of notes. "How well do you know one another?" He thought again, "Somewhere in the middle. Acquainted, but not incredibly well." More notes on the clipboard. There was a rug in the center of the room and a cane resting against the foot of the bed. Frank felt the raised patterns on the surface, "Is this a duvet, or a duvet cover with an insert?" The hostage shrugged.
"Let me just say this," he said, "I don't think I can trust the bastard. Real or not. I've come to notice that it doesn't make any difference. If I'm eating a sandwich, and I choke on the bread and die, the sandwich won't feel bad. Even if it's a real sandwich, it won't feel bad. It'll just sit there and watch me suffocate. Maybe a fake object would be more trustworthy, it might give up the facade and try to save you, maybe it'd hope that your forgiveness would allow it to keep on pretending. A real object has no worries in the world though, it can kill you in cold blood and the worst thing that happens is that a little blood might splash onto 'em. Nothing more than that." Frank nodded, occasionally glancing over at Allen as he took notes on the clipboard. He continued to feel the pattern, trying to remember what a real pattern would feel like versus a fake one. He looked at where the insert would clump up, and at the parts of the cover that it couldn't reach to.
"So maybe I'm being held hostage by a real duvet that knows it can get away with whatever it wants. Or maybe I'm being held hostage by a fake one that thinks it's been found out. Who knows? I just want to forget about all of this and go to bed." Frankie-boy looked at the hostage and said, "Why did you call us then?"
"I'm being held hostage," he said. Allen felt around the blanket for a seam where the insert would have been slid in. "Do you do the laundry yourself?" The hostage shook his head no. Allen grumbled to himself as he looked for the opening. The hostage sighed, "You know maybe this is the end of me. Even if you two idiots get me out of here, I still won't know what I can and can't trust. It'll all be up for grabs. Maybe I'll have to start surrounding myself with fake objects, and I'll incentivize them to treat me well. I could blackmail them and stop worrying." Allen found the seam and undid the buttons. He felt along the inside, trying to unclump the insert and spread it out properly. Frank thought about the possibility of a real hostage situation. If this was a fake object who had somehow determined how to hold someone hostage, then what would be the procedure? Would they have to call the offices and discuss a ransom? Worse yet, what if it was real? What could they do?
Allen leaned in and softly said, "It's a real duvet. My family has the same one. I wanted to make sure that it was a cover and an insert. It's just like the one we have." Frankie-boy nodded. The object police don't deal in real objects. They only matter to the department insofar as they provide something to compare the fake ones to. If a real object murders someone, or holds an old man hostage, it has nothing to do with the object police. Some other department has to come along and deal with it. Frank walked over to the bed and squatted down next to it, holding himself upright with the help of the night stand. "We've gone through the inspection and determined that it's a real object. There aren't any of the usual flaws we see in a faked duvet. The insert is there, it clumps just like we'd expect, the pattern is aged how we would expect it to be. I'm sorry." The hostage looked at him, "Am I still being held hostage then?" Frank and Allen looked at each other.
One of them said, "We don't know. It's out of our jurisdiction." The old man frowned. Frank patted him on the shoulder, and the two officers walked out of the room. Allen left a receipt on the night stand and Frank finished filling out the forms. "It's a real shame."