Valentine’s Day Massacre
by Joshua Corbeil-Stoodley
Snow hit the roof of the green coupe like so many cotton balls dropped on somebody’s lawn as her driver inched his way through the crowded streets, desperate to get where he needed to go. The siren atop the coupe blared it’s rabbit death wail to all and sundry, but the other drivers either didn’t notice or didn’t care, for they continued to crawl their way forward, just in front of the coupe. Not that was a lot the other drivers could do; the streets were as narrow as an evangelicals mind and as crooked as Nixon. There was no place to pull over and even if there were, all the places had been taken by drivers who had got there earlier in the night.
“Jesus,” the driver said. He was a gent of average height and build, with a face that reminded people of Mickey Mouse. He wore a leather jacket that had been patched up so many times it deserved, at least, one purple heart. Underneath the jacket, he wore a light blue collared shirt with the collar undone. To keep his legs warm and protect conventional notions of decency he wore a pair of black dress pants held up by a plain black belt. Hair the colour of a crow lay flat on his head, parted to one side. His eyes continually swept the narrow streets in front of him, searching for a way through the congested traffic. “Jesus,” he repeated. “Don’t these people know how to drive?”
“You tell me, Jack,” his passenger said. Her voice was low and husky, the kind of voice you only get after surviving a hanging. Or a knife wound to the neck. Jack wasn’t sure and didn’t want to ask. “You’re the native, not me.”
Jack spared a quick glance at the dame sitting next to him. She was tall for a lady, coming in at around six feet. She had sandy blond hair that went well with the tan trench coat she wore over her navy-blue pinstriped suit. Her face was pale and gaunt, stretched tight over cheekbones a professional thief could have used to cut through a glass display case. A hooked nose loomed over an almost lipless mouth. Great amber eyes that never seemed to blink did nothing to dispel the notion of an underfed and slightly depressed hawk looking for her next meal. A small scar was just visible over the starched collar of her bleached white shirt.
“Yeah, well. We’re pretty much there anyway,” Jack said as he peered through his windshield into the February snowfall at the numbers on the townhouses in front of him. “Don’t know how we’re gonna find a parking spot, but we’re there.”
His passenger said nothing. Jack spared her another quick glance. He opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it and closed his mouth again. He drove on for another minute or two before finding a parking spot half a block down from the building they wanted to stop at. With careful manoeuvring, Jack managed to slide his coupe in between the smart car and the three-door van. Jack and his passenger got out.
“Aren’t you cold Jack?” the dame asked, as she adjusted the fedora on her head. She had retrieved it from the coupe’s back seat before she exited the car. It was a tan, Bogart-style fedora to match her coat.
“Ah, so you do care,” Jack replied as he started walking down the icy street. The dame followed him along the equally icy sidewalk, her long strides made keeping up him easy work.
“Just don’t want to explain to your old lady how you caught cold and died,” the dame answered. “Then she wouldn’t invite me over for chilly anymore.”
“Well, we can’t have that, can we?” Jack said with a smile.
“Where are we going, anyway?” the dame asked. She hiked up her jacket around her ears and bent her head down into her chest to provide a little more protection from the cold. She was from Detroit, Michigan, and the winters there would make any Fort citizen howl with grief. Yet she couldn’t understand how Jack was walking around in nothing more than a leather jacket, a shirt and a pair of pants. Then again, she’d been sensitive to the cold ever since her tour of duty had ended. Must have been all those years in that god-forsaken desert.
“There,” Jack said, pointing to a townhouse six houses up the street from where they had parked. “You see it? House number 34168, King Street.”
“I see it,” the dame confirmed. It was hard not too; the townhouse in question was a boarded up, dilapidated mess that looked like it belonged more in the Gutters than in the private neighbourhood of Zion. “What do you think this is all about, Jack?”
“Dunno,” Jack answered. “It’s not every day we get a call from the great Suckhead Tech. Can’t imagine it’s anything major. A drug bust or something they have to hand over to us mortals. Small change crap.”
The dame grunted in what might have been agreement. Privately, she promised herself that she was going to pick up a scarf as soon as she got off shift tonight. Assuming anything was still open by the time she got off shift, anyway. Sighing, she and Jack continued to march their way up to 34168, occasionally pushing people out of the way and dodging the occasional car. Finally, they reached the building. Jack knocked on the door. It opened to reveal a young dame in a black suit shirt and tie over black pants. On the left shoulder of her shirt was embroidered a silver shield over a single chevron. Above her right breast was embroidered the name: ‘PO. A. Baker.’ A similarly black belt held up not just her pants, but also a large brick of a radio, a pair of handcuffs and cell phone. Her shoes had clearly been shined that evening, but now bore the evidence of the winter outside. The dame’s naturally kinked hair had been dyed a dark purple and her thick, sensual lips had been painted to resemble an upside down bat. Her irises were the colour of poppies and her pupils were vertical slits. Her skin was the colour of freshly sanded mahogany.
“You the two mortal detectives we’re waiting for?” she asked.
“That’s right,” Jack said, flashing his buzzer. “I’m Jack Callaghan. This is my partner, Mary Elizabeth Thomas,” he said as he jabbed his thumb in the direction of the blonde. She, too, flashed her buzzer towards Baker, who grabbed them both with an expert hand. After she had examined them for a minute, Baker nodded and hand the buzzers back to the two detectives. Then she reached around to the back of her belt and pulled out her own buzzer, showing it to the two detectives.
“I’m Patrol Officer Asha Baker,” she said as the detectives examined the badge. “And boy, am I glad you two made it here.”
“Bad, Baker?” Thomas asked as she handed back Baker’s buzzer to her.
Baker nodded. Thomas noticed that under that cherry-wood complexion, the shorter dame had gone just a little green. “It’s pretty bad,” Baker agreed. “Nothing they don’t prepare you for, but you know…”
Thomas reached out and clapped the other dame on the shoulder. “It’s okay,” she said, her usually gravelly tone soft, “it’s okay. Nothing prepares you for the first time. Trust me. I’ve seen way more of this shit than you, and nothing ever prepares you. You may think you’re prepared, but you’re really not.”
“Yeah,” Baker said. “Yeah, I kinda got that.” She looked up at the taller dame with a grateful smile and Thomas smiled gently back. She didn’t feel all that gentle, though. Whatever had turned this new cop green, it sure wasn’t a drug bust. For a minute there, Thomas wasn’t in a broken down townhouse in Fort City. She was in a cave in a part of the desert even the locals avoided. Before the hallucination could go any further, Thomas dispelled it with a shake of her head. That had been fifteen years ago, to the day. It had nothing to do with what was going on down here.
“Were you the first responder?” Jack asked. Thomas shot him a grateful look for bringing reality back into the situation.
Baker eyed Thomas oddly. Apparently she had noticed Thomas’ lapse into dreamland. “Yeah,” Baker said. “Me and my partner, anyway. We were doing a routine check, you know, for squatters or whatever. That’s when we noticed the smell.”
“I didn’t think vampires had squatters,” Thomas said. “Aren’t all members of the Flock supposed to be provided with homes and jobs?”
Baker shrugged. “Not everybody who squats is a sheep,” she pointed out. “We get a lot of mortals who come in, just looking for a place to stay the night. Runaways, junkies, the homeless. You know, the usual crowd of people nobody gives a damn about. We can’t let ’em stay in a death trap like this, so we gotta round ’em up and take ’em back to Sanctuary or some other shelter for the night.”
“And recruit ’em there?” Thomas asked as a crooked grin tugged at the corners of her mouth.
Baker shrugged. “We try,” she admitted. “Better than letting them stay out here in the cold. Let’s us get help for the junkies and the mentally ill, too.”
“There is that,” Thomas agreed.
“Speaking of getting in from the cold,” Jack said, somewhat pointedly, “how about we all move this conversation inside? It’s starting to bite out here.”
“Shoulda worn more than a leather jacket, Jack,” Thomas said with a grin. Baker let out a grin of her own as she moved back from the door to let the two detectives inside. They entered the building and let the door swing softly shut behind them.
The two detectives, lead by Officer Baker, made their way through the townhouse and down into the basement. The whole place stank like a skunk that had been run over and left to rot on a warm summer’s day. The floorboards didn’t so much creek as they did make wet squishy sounds every time somebody stepped on them. Termites and cockroaches skittered over the walls, a dark sea of creepy crawlies. Overhead, in the corners of the ceiling, hung cobwebs thick with the remnants of their owner’s devoured prey. Thomas couldn’t see the spiders themselves but knew they had to be as fat as Sydney Greenstreet for this place was lousy with prey. A predator would have to be dumber than Dubya had been not to make a killing here. In the shadows, beady red eyes peered back at the travelling cops. Rats. Thomas shuddered. She almost preferred the desert; at least scorpions didn’t eat people. Usually.
“Why hasn’t this place been condemned?” she asked.
Baker snorted. “It has,” she answered as she headed down the stairs down into the basement. The stairs made a much more satisfying creak as the flatfoot headed down them, compared to the main floor’s worrying squish. “Mayor’s Office won’t let us tear it down, though. Something about bidding on the contracts or union rules or something. Who knows. Different bullshit every time, same results.”
“Somebody in the Mayor’s Office own property here or something?” Thomas asked. She held back at the top of the stairwell, letting Jack follow Baker down first. Almost without realizing it, Thomas stuck her hand in underneath her coat to caress the butt of the gat that hung underneath her shoulder. It wasn’t comforting.
“Or they want to,” Jack answered as he followed Baker down. He didn’t seem affected by the condition of the house one bit. “Most of Zion is owned by the Barony. The Flock, the Knights Bachelor, Standard Tech itself. Not a whole lot of room for mortal development, you know what I mean? Could be someone decided they wanted in and are trying to bring down the property values by letting this place stand. Or they’re attempting to muscle in on this place, specifically. Get the contract to tear this place down, rebuild it and sell it. A lot of money, either way.”
“Jesus, it’s just like Detroit,” Thomas said. She paused to consider that statement for a moment. “No, worse. It’s just like Baghdad.”
The other two cops laughed as they headed down the stairs. Thomas followed, her hands kept firmly against her sides. All three of them marched single file into the basement.
The basement was in much better shape than the rest of the house. The walls had been freshly plastered, although they were completely bare. In the northwest corner of the room sat an old furnace and water heater combination. Overhead were rusting copper pipes. And in the middle of the room sat Dr. Tsuyu Kitahara and her assistant Miki Yoshimoto as they attended to roughly a dozen corpses.
“Jesus wept,” Thomas swore once she had come down the stairs and surveyed the scene. Baker had moved out furthest from the stair along the eastern wall. Jack stood between her and the stairwell.
“Yeah, that was kind of our response, too,” a voice from Thomas’ left side. Thomas turned to see another one of Standard Tech’s Patrol Officers. This officer was a little taller than Baker, with a face shaped like those stupid fake hearts you see on Valentine’s Day, complete with widow’s peak. Her nose was as broad as Baker’s was, but her lips were thinner, more like a horizontal gash across her face then a mouth. Her head had been completely shaved. Her irises were an odd red-green, but with regular pupils. She wore the same suit as her partner, but with two bars underneath the shield on her left shoulder. “Officer Alejandra Rojo, at your service. My partner and I were first on the scene.”
Jack and Thomas nodded. They swapped buzzers with the officer once again. Thomas got out her notebook and asked:
“According to your partner, the two of you entered the building to do a routine check for the homeless or other possible misuse of private property, is that correct?”
“That’s right, Detective,” Rojo answered. “It was a routine hazard check, at around six-thirty this evening. This place has been broken down for years and nobody has ever done anything about it. Makes it a great place for the homeless, refugees and dope dealers to hang out in. At least, until they fall through the floor or something and decide to sue the city or the barony for it. So we chase ’em out at least once a night. Last night we caught a whole party of teenagers in here. Stupid kids.” Rojo paused to take a breath. “Anyway, we had checked out the main floor and headed into the basement. That’s when we saw the bodies. They were just lying there, no effort to hide them or anything. So we checked them out first, to see if they were sheep or not.”
“And? Were they?” Jack asked from his position to the right of Thomas.
Rojo shook her head. “No. No tattoos or colours that we could see. That’s when we called it in.”
“Right,” Thomas said as she jotted down her notes. Then something Rojo said made her hesitate. “Wait, you said you got here around six-thirty?” she asked.
“That’s right,” Rojo answered.
“It’s damn near ten o’clock now! When did you call it in?” Thomas demanded as she checked her watch.
“About six-forty, six-forty-five. I can get you the call logs if you want, Detective,” Rojo answered. She seemed wary and noncommittal to Thomas, as though she knew somebody had screwed the pooch with an electric jackhammer and wanted to distance herself from the fallout as much as she could. Not that Thomas could blame her one iota.
“Hell yes, I want those logs! And by the end of the night, Officer!” Thomas snapped. “Because we only got the call at the precinct forty minutes ago! And according to the captain, that was a direct call from Standard Tech, not through Dispatch. There had better be a damn good explanation for this, Officer.”
Rojo shrugged. “I wish I had one, detective. But when we called 911, we got the brush off. First we were told that no officers were available, and then we were told that if kept crank calling, we’d get charged. Finally, we called our Dispatch, and I guess they must have tried the FCPD a couple times first before they called Captain Westenra. Sorry detective, I don’t know what else to tell you.”
Thomas stared at the other dame for several seconds before bursting into a litany of swears in English and Arabic both. Jack stood silently beside her as she furiously scribbled down everything Rojo had said. Once Thomas was finished, Jack said:
“We’re really gonna need those call logs, Officer. As soon as you can get them.”
Rojo nodded. “We’ll call it in right now, sir,” she promised. Before she had finished speaking, Baker was already on her phone, calling in the necessary instructions to Standard Tech headquarters.
“Come on,” Jack said, with a gentle tug on Thomas’ sleeve. “Let’s go find out what those pretty doctors have to tell us.”
Thomas nodded stiffly. As she turned to follow Jack, she ground her teeth together but didn’t say a word. Jack pretended not to notice as they picked their way across the dead bodies to where Dr. Kitahara was hunched over, cataloguing the wounds on one of the bodies.
“Dr. Kitahara! How are you? It’s so sweet to see you! And may I just say, you look lovely in those blue plastic pyjamas,” Jack said once the two detectives had reached the medical examiner.
“Hello Jack,” Kitahara said, without looking up from the corpse. “New partner?”
“Yeah, this is Detective Thomas,” Jack answered. “Mary, this is Dr…
“We’ve met,” Thomas said curtly.
Kitahara looked up from the corpse she had been examining. She was a petite dame with a round face, skin the colour of old pennies and high-set narrow eyes. And she actually was wearing blue plastic footie pyjamas, the uniform of the Coroner’s office when examining a body. “That’s right,” she said, “we did. Sorry, I didn’t recognize you, detective.”
“It’s fine,” Thomas said. “I’m more interested in what the hell all this is,” she continued as she waved her arm at the broken, rotting corpses.
“Just your standard issue Valentine’s Day massacre, detective,” Yoshimoto, Kitahara’s assistant, called from the next body down where she was photographing the corpse’s bruises. Yoshimoto was as small as Kitahara, but with an angular face, paler skin and glowing yellow eyes. Thomas had pegged her as a kitsune from the moment they met and had to keep her lip from curling in distaste. She knew damn that the propaganda against the kitsune was just that, propaganda, and Yoshimoto had never done anything to suggest that she was anything but a conscientious young dame who worked hard and did her job well. But lies are hard to shake sometimes and the military told more lies than just about anybody else in town.
“Miki’s got that right,” Kitahara said. She gestured at the bodies. “You see these bruises?” The two detectives bent down to get a better look at the body. “They were made with something round and hard. A blackjack, maybe.”
“Or a police baton,” Thomas said, her insides curdling.
“Or a police baton,” Kitahara agreed. “Either way, based on the lividity, I’d say they were made when the victims were still alive.”
“Beat them until they can’t resist, then chop off their heads?” Jack asked. “What am I saying, of course, that’s how they did it. It’s the classic set-up for this kind of gag.”
“That’s my guess,” Kitahara said. “I’ll be able to tell you more when I get them to an actual autopsy. Whoever did this also cut off their victims hands and feet, you’ll notice. That will make ID-ing the bodies difficult.”
“No head for the dental records, no hands for the fingerprints,” Thomas agreed. “Yeah, I can see how that might make identification a little difficult. Or impossible.”
Kitahara shrugged. “Not impossible. We’ll run DNA matches, see if these guys have ever been arrested or charged with something. See if that turns up anything.”
Thomas snorted. “Are you expecting results sometime this century? ‘Cause, uh, I don’t think Jack or I will live to see it.”
Kitahara shrugged again. “It’s what I got, detective. You don’t like it, you’re going to have ID our victims another way.”
“Yeah,” Thomas said with a sigh.
“Do we know where these people were murdered? I mean, where they killed here or where they moved?” Jack asked.
“Oh, they were definitely murdered in this house,” Kitahara said grimly. “We found the butcher room where whoever did this cut these people up. It’s in the master bedroom, second floor. We haven’t had time to examine it yet, but there’s no question that’s where these people were butchered.”
“Right,” Jack said. “We’ll go check it out. Come on, Mary. Let’s go see what the butcher room has to tell us.”
It was two days after they had been called to the scene of what had been dubbed ‘Yet Another Valentine’s Day Massacre’ by the press, and Detective Mary Elizabeth Thomas was parked at her desk in the 45th precinct squad room, down on Old Centaur Boulevard, in the neighbourhood known far and wide as The Gutters. The squad room was empty today, save for Detective Thomas; the other detectives and beat officers had all gone home. She suspected there was some sort of sporting event going on. Or maybe it was the weekend; she wasn’t sure. Thomas had stopped keeping track of the days shortly after she’d been assigned to the 45th precinct. Better to lose oneself in the work, after all, then go insane.
Besides, it didn’t matter where the other cops had gone. Thomas had work to do.
Not that anybody should have to do this kind of work.
“I’m sorry,” Thomas repeated, for the umpteenth time. “I really am. But there’s nothing more we can do.”
Thomas didn’t really believe in her apologies and was sure that was coming out in how she said them. Not that she suspected even the most heartfelt apology would have convinced the young dame sitting across the desk from her.
“Why am I not surprised?” the lady said. She was of average height for a dame and built like a rectangle. Dark scars from where she had been attacked by her boyfriend marred the left half of her features and pulled one corner of her mouth into a permanently sarcastic grin. Her skin was the colour of fresh earth and her hair, at least what was left of it, was tightly curled. She wore a grey hoodie with the logo for some band or artist Thomas had never heard of and a pair of dark khaki cargo pants underneath. In the streets of The Gutters you’d walk past her and a million more like her and never look twice. Her name, according to the police records, was Monique Simpson. “Oh, right. ‘Cause you pigs haven’t done shit here in ten years or more. That’s why I’m not surprised,” Monique continued. “That’s why I’m not surprised. The poor get stepped on and if you’re black and poor… shit, maybe that’s why all our kids go and join the damn vampires. At least they aren’t poor.”
Thomas nodded. There really wasn’t any way she could counter Monique’s analysis. Not from what she’d seen in the Fort, or in Detroit for that matter. She knew all too well what that bastard Snyder was up to, in places like Flint. At least the Fort hadn’t gotten that bad, yet.
“If you hear from Mr. Desjardins, give us a call,” Thomas pleaded. “We’ll bring up the goon squad and nail him, I promise.”
“Shit, now you want me to do your work for you?” Monique seemed amused by the idea, although that might have just been the scarring. “Nah, he ain’t gonna call me. Or come anywhere near me. He’s too chicken. Besides,” she added, looking around the station, “it looks to me like your goon squad is gonna be a little light.”
“Yeah, well,” Thomas said as she struggled to come up with an excuse for her colleagues absenteeism. Her efforts were hampered by not knowing what day of the week it was. Monique came to her rescue.
“Hey, don’t worry about,” she said, almost gently. “I get it, you know? Being a cop is tough. Especially in The Gutters. Your bosses would rather pretend this place didn’t exist, so they dump whatever cop they don’t like down here and leave you here to rot. No backup, no support, no official acknowledgement of anything you do, even if it’s not exactly kosher policing. Same way they do everybody else down here.”
“That’s…” completely true, Thomas added mentally. But she couldn’t very well say it! Not to a kid who she was supposed to protect and serve.
“Forget it,” Monique said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I wasn’t expecting you to do anything anyway. This was just a courtesy call, so when that fucker goes missing, you don’t waste any of your time looking for him.” She stood up out of her chair. Thomas made to follow, thought better of it, and sat back down. Monique edged her way past the desk and was halfway out into the little hallway between the cubicles before she turned around and said:
“You seem like an all right dame. Way too nice for this business. You should think about a career change. Policing will kill you deader than the heroin did my mama. Go work security for Okoro or somebody. Prostitution, maybe. Better pay, better benefits and you won’t be a useless parasite on society’s backside.”
“Get out of my precinct,” Thomas replied.
Monique shrugged. “Just looking out for a fellow dame,” she said, and then proceeded to follow Thomas’ suggestion to the letter. Thomas leaned back in her rickety old chair and stared up at the cracked and rotting ceiling as she pondered the wondrous cruelty of the universe in all its petty glory. As she was sitting there, a large man with skin the colour of the night sky in an FCPD uniform came out of the office at the north end of the room. He took one look at the empty squad room, scowled and barked: “Thomas!”
Thomas settled back in an upright position and looked curiously over at the man. “Sarge?” she asked.
“The captain wants to see you. Now,” the sergeant said, and then marched back into the office, slamming the door as he went. Thomas got out of her chair and manoeuvred around the desk until she was in the corridor between the cubicles. Then she walked up towards the office the sergeant had disappeared back into, mildly curious about what had gotten the usually mild-tempered Sergeant Ethan Young in such a twist. Most likely it was the captain’s ire he was channelling, although Thomas doubted that her colleague’s currently being AWOL didn’t help either.
Thomas reached the door to the captain’s office and walked straight in, not bothering to knock. If Captain Westenra was pissed as it was, knocking and waiting to be let in would have just pissed her off more.
“Sarge said you wanted to see me, Captain?” Thomas asked as she shut the door behind her. She hadn’t looked at the captain as she came in, and as soon as she did, Thomas was possessed by the urge to become as small and as insignificant as possible.
Captain Westenra was a little dame built like a bull terrier. A bull terrier with hair the colour of a forest fire and eyes that looked like somebody was burning copper in glass jars. According to Jack, those eyes were once a much healthier green, about the colour of a freshly mown lawn. Thomas thought Jack should lay off the booze.
“I did, detective,” Westenra said, her tone as icy as the North Atlantic in winter. “Sit down.”
Thomas sat down in a chair across from the captain’s desk. Young walked around the desk so he was hovering behind the captain, his arms folded across his chest. His expression wouldn’t be out of place on a starving ogre. Given that Thomas knew he was a marshmallow who cooed over stupid cat videos on the ‘net, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to laugh at his attempt to be serious… or be terrified by it.
“I want you to know that what I’m about to say does not reflect my opinion of you,” Westenra said, in that same icy tone. “I think you’re a good cop and a fine gumshoe. I’m proud of you and the work you do.”
Thomas decided that terror was the appropriate response.
“But the department, and the union, disagree,” Westenra continued. “In fact, you’ve been cited for sharing sensitive information about a case to a private interest and have been placed on administrative leave.”
Thomas blinked. “What?” she said.
Westenra sighed. “That case you and Jack worked two nights ago? You remember that one?”
“The massacre up in Zion neighbourhood? The one where we couldn’t get any support and dispatch kept telling us to stop calling in a fake crime, that one?” Thomas asked. Westenra nodded and Thomas shook her head, bewildered. “What about it? I know we were out of our jurisdiction, but…”
“It’s more than that,” Young interrupted. “You went to Standard Tech for help.”
“Oh, not that damned pissing contest again!” Thomas snapped. “I’m sorry for trying to do my job, all right? Jesus Christ!”
“We’re on your side, Mary,” Westenra said, the ice in her voice finally breaking to let some compassion in. “But Bianco and Rollins had an ugly spat earlier in the evening. Rollins accused Bianco of overstepping his authority, Bianco responded with some really underhanded jabs about Rollins’… everything, really. And now Rollins is taking out on you.”
“Rollins would take it out on me no matter what that bloodsucking bastard said or did,” Thomas replied. “He’s got such a fucking inferiority complex where the vampires are concerned that if you help one of their little sheep across the street he has a coronary!”
Westenra winced at the accurate description of her ultimate superior. “I’m sorry Mary,” she murmured. “There’s nothing else we can do.”
“Funny, I just told some other dame the exact same thing,” Thomas said. “It went over with me about as well as it did with her.” Thomas got up out of the chair. “Well, good night, Captain. I’d say I’ve got work to do, but I guess I don’t. Call me when this witch-hunt is over.” With that, she spun on her heel and left, slamming the door shut behind her as she went.
Detective Mary Elizabeth Thomas walked up to the old oaken doors of the Grinning Skeleton bar, at the border between Zion and Downtown. It was an old bar; the doors had been hacked with axes and the windows were boarded up from a shooting that had happened more than twenty years ago. Still, Thomas thought as the waitress lead her to a corner booth in the far back, you could see why people frequented the place. It was clean, for one thing, a feat many new bars never quite manage, and the lights hanging down from the ceiling cast long dark shadows into the booths. Perfect for meetings you didn’t want to be noticed.
They reached the booth. Thomas sidled in, opposite the man she was here to meet. He was a gent of average height, with a pencil moustache and severely parted black hair. He wore a black suit with a white shirt and a black tie. He looked at her with dark eyes that might have had life in them once, but were now little more than black holes, sucking in all the light from the surrounding area. The perfect IAD man, Thomas thought. Completely, utterly soulless. No other thought in his head than the integrity of the police force. Thomas wondered if IAD just found people like that, or if there was a facility where they made ordinary cops into IAD-types. She decided she didn’t want to know.
“Anything I can get you, doll?” the waitress asked, bending over so that Thomas got a perfect view of how just how tightly that top was stretched. That was another selling point of the Grinning Skeleton: impossibly beautiful waiters and waitresses alike, with the added bonus that their virtue was negotiable. Looking into the dame’s heavily tattooed and pierced face, Thomas debated whether or not she should do some negotiating of her own. Celebrate a belated Valentine’s Day, maybe.
“Whiskey,” Thomas said, as she decided against it. She wouldn’t be good company tonight anyway.
“Certainly. And you, handsome?” the waitress asked the IAD man, flashing him a grin so fake the bags of silicone taped to her chest were ashamed to share the same body as it.
“Water,” the IAD man said. “No ice.”
“Coming right up,” the waitress said. Thomas watched as she walked away, admiring the bounce contained with those fishnet stockings.
“You called me,” the IAD man said. “Start talking.”
“You’re a real charmer, you know that?” Thomas replied. “With a personality like that, it’s hard to see why cops hate you.”
“Cops hate me for the same reason civilians hate cops,” the IAD man said. “We control their natural sociopathic and narcissistic impulses. Without cops, and without IAD to control the police, there would be nothing to stop people from murdering their empty hearts out.”
Thomas raised a sardonic eyebrow. “A charmer and a philosopher,” she said. “Lucky me. Bet you have to beat the girls off with a stick.”
“What makes you think I’m not gay?” the IAD man said. His expression had not changed throughout the whole conversation.
“You’re IAD,” Thomas said, in a tone that wasn’t quite scathing. “There isn’t enough human left in you to have a sexuality.”
The IAD man nodded, apparently conceding the point. Perversely amused, Thomas reached under her jacket and brought out a slim manila envelope. She pushed it across the table towards the IAD man.
“This is everything?” he asked.
“Everything so far,” Thomas answered. “I’m not sure what you’re looking for; Captain Westenra’s unit is clean.”
“Other than the mild absenteeism, you mean,” the IAD man replied.
Thomas shrugged. “I’m just saying, there are dirtier units that you could be investigating,” she said. “Rollins’ trouble boys, for instance.”
The IAD man reached out and grabbed the envelope. He hesitated as he pulled it in towards him. “The truth is, we’re not interested in Westenra,” he said. “As you say, she’s clean. As is her unit. Useless, most of them. But clean. No, what we’re interested in is you.”
Thomas nodded. “This is a test, then,” she said. “See if I’m willing to spy on good cops so I can take out the bad ones.”
“Something like that,” the IAD man said. He stuffed the folder into a bag that sat beside him.
Thomas snorted. “I don’t know how much use I’ll be,” she said. “Rollins and his crew already hate me. I’ll never get close enough to nail them.
“We can use that too,” the IAD man said. He got up out of the booth, taking his coat, hat, and bag with him. Thomas slouched back on the bench and watched. The waitress came up with her whiskey and his water.
“Ah, did your date not stay?” she asked, in that falsely cooing voice that came out of an ad factory somewhere. “Shame. Well, maybe I can be your date. I’m just about to go off shift.”
“No thanks,” Thomas said as she raised the shot glass to her lips. Taking a swig, she said: “This is kind of a solo celebration, anyway.”
The waitress cocked her head. “Oh? What are you celebrating?”
Thomas poured herself another shot. Raising the glass, she said: “What else? A Valentine’s Day Massacre.”