Weekly Update

Whooo kay, this has been a long week:

  • The Standard Tech Case Files: The Dead and the Damned is in the final editing stages and will be on Kindle Scout this month. Once it’s on there, I can’t stress this enough: you guys need to vote for it. Please. Pretty please with cherries on top. It’s the only way I can get the publishing contract and therefore the money to get away from my horrible dead-end job. And, even more importantly, continue to write.
  • Angels of the Docks, October’s short story, will be up September 30/October 1st. September 30th is only if you’re a Patron, so please check out my Patreon page.
  • I know the Uncanny X-Men has gone on an unintended hiatus, but rest assured it’s coming back next week.
  • In the meant time, please check out my previous novels, Robots and Vampires and The Standard Tech Case Files: The Black Coats.

Until next week!

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(Late) Weekly Update

Hi guys!

Sorry I missed last week, I’m still not a hundred percent. So just a couple of things:

  • The Dead and the Damned is almost finished being edited and should be up in Kindle Scout this month.
  • The next chapter of The Uncanny X-Men will be up this week.
  • Angels of the Docks, October’s short story will be up on Sept 30th/October 1st as usual.

That’s all for now folks! I’ll take to you again later this week.

Weekly Update

Hi guys! Time again for this weeks update!

  • Sheriff in the Dark is up! Go and check it out.
  • The next chapter of The Uncanny X-Men is up, introducing everybody’s favourite webhead!
  • I got the Dead and the Damned back from my editor and am chewing on it now. Soon it will be up in the Kindle Scout publishing campaign-thingie. Once it is, don’t forget to vote for it!
  • In the meantime, you can check out Robots and Vampires and The Standard Tech Case Files: The Black Coats. Don’t forget to leave a review!
  • Also, if you love my stories and want to see more, don’t forget to support me on Patreon!

That’s all for this week! Until next time!

Sheriff in the Dark

Sheriff in the Dark

 

by Joshua Corbeil-Stoodley

 

Mary Elizabeth Thomas awoke screaming. She didn’t recognize the room, had absolutely no idea where she was or what she was doing there. All she could see where the burning sands of the Arabian peninsula, the blasted and ripped apart corpses of friends, lovers colleagues, and the grinning horrors that had reached out to grab her in the daymare and carve their grin into her. Sometimes, the fact that you couldn’t die in a dream was more curse than blessing. It wasn’t Thomas’ conscious mind that carried her to the tiny apartment’s bathroom, but muscle memory ingrained from weeks upon weeks of having woken up to these terrible nightmares. By pure instinct, Thomas found the toilet, flipped open the lid and emptied the contents of her guts into the porcelain bowl. Once Thomas was done wretching, she slowly came to her senses. She remembered where she was: in a tiny apartment in the Gutters district of Fort City, the cheapest place she could find and more than ten years away from her service in the killing sands of Iraq. Ten years in Detroit that had been filled with nightmares of their own before she had been exiled from her own home and shoved into what had to be the most corrupt police department in America, the only department that would take her after that fiasco. The injustice of it still rankled. Thomas picked herself slowly up from her knees and flushed the toilet. Not that it would have made much difference to the quality of the bathroom anyway. A rat poked his head out of a hole beside the toilet’s base, and Thomas shooed him back down the whole, telling him that it was too early to be up anyway. The rat duly obliged and Thomas staggered over to the sink, where her toothbrush sat on the side. Thomas brushed her teeth to get the vomit out and stared up at the mirror that hung above the sink. Thomas heard that some people didn’t recognize themselves in the mirror after coming home from war, but that wasn’t the case for her however much she might have wished it was. She was still blonde, with long stringy hair that fell about her face in a tangled mess this evening. Her face retained some of the tan she had picked up in Iraq, but even that was fading under the stress of her life. Her eyes were still amber, though they looked clouded after the daymare. Her beak of a nose still dominated her face, though it had been broken recently trying to break up a group of people who were trying to commit suicide by way of alcoholism and bar brawling. Her lips were chapped and thin and scarred, though the scars were barely noticeable. You’d have to kiss her to notice and who’d want to kiss Mary Elizabeth Thomas these days? She was still gaunt, more like a bipedal stick insect than a human being. No, Thomas recognized herself all too well in the mirror. The reflection, after all, was the same one she had had to deal with every day for the last ten years, so why wouldn’t she recognize herself? That didn’t mean she liked what she saw, but that was a moot point as far as Thomas was concerned.

Thomas turned to get into the bathtub/shower combination that lined the west wall of the bathroom. She had gone to sleep naked during the day, as had become her habit since arriving in Fort City so it wasn’t like her pyjamas were going to get wet. The tub was cracked and smelled of chlorine; the water was rarely hot and when it was it was hot enough to scald. Thomas had gotten a couple of first degree burns from the water before, but she neither noticed or cared. After some of the sunburns she had suffered out in Iraq, it was hard to get worked up over some minor scalding. The water this time was cold enough to send a senior citizen into shock, which suited Thomas well enough. It meant she was awake enough that she could skip coffee on the way to work. She finished her shower and made her way back into the main room of her apartment.

It was tiny, even by Fort City standards. There was no kitchen; merely the bathroom and the bedroom. A single bed came down from the north wall into the middle of the room. The east wall was solid and blank, it’s only decoration being a tiny writing desk complete with chair and a safe where Thomas kept the files she took home from work. In the north-west corner was Thomas’ gun safe. Only Thomas knew the combination to either safe, and she used a powerful, portable random number generator that she had ‘borrowed’ from the Army to change the safe combination every so often. On top of her desk was a small laptop. Cut into the south wall was a closet;  west of it was the door out of the apartment. Thomas crossed over to the closet and started picking out her work clothes: a navy blue suit that had seen better days, slacks the same colour and in the same condition, a white shirt in much better shape, a tie in the same colour as her suit jacket and pants, a pair of black socks, black shoes and her beloved tan trench coat. Thomas swiftly dressed before heading over to her gun safe. Opening the safe, she pulled out the nine-millimetre pistol that was standard issue in the FCPD along with her buzzer. Thomas holstered the gun and slipped the buzzer into her pocket before throwing on her suit jacket and trench. Then she walked over to the other safe and opened it. Inside were a set of files, a carrying case for her laptop and the files, and her wallet and phone. She pulled out the wallet and phone first and stuffed them into various pockets before grabbing the files and the bag and placing the files into the bag. Then she disconnected the laptop from the power and internet outlets and stuffed the notebook into her bag. Lastly, she closed both safes and locked them, slung the bag onto her shoulders and walked out the door, locking both the deadbolt and three other locks she had gotten for the door as she did so.

#

Thomas walked into the Gutters Police Precinct with a stale pastry in her hand and thin watered down coffee in the other. She didn’t need the coffee; the cold shower she had taken earlier that evening had already woken her up completely, and the coffee was probably going to make her stomach problems worse. But the coffee disguised the smell of vomit still on her breath, and she didn’t need Captain Westenra breathing down her neck again. At least about the bad dreams; Samantha Westenra was semi-permanently pissed off at life in general and would no doubt find something else to harangue Thomas about. But at least it wouldn’t be about the damned nightmares again.

The Gutters Police Precinct was as run-down as the district it oversaw. One of the windows in its grimstone facade had been broken in with a baseball; the others had simply never been finished. The door had been smashed open with an axe at some point in the past, and nobody had seen fit to fix it since. Most of the grimstone was covered in graffiti that was probably never going to be washed off, and what remained had blackened even more than usual by smoke damage.

The inside was little better. Once you were in the doors, you found that most of the hardwood floor had been stripped down to the hard cement. The sergeant’s desk, which occupied the east wall, past the entrance corridor, was riddled with bullet holes and there was a deep gash in the hardwood top; probably a remnant of the attack that had resulted in the same wound to the front door. The entrance corridor itself was riddled with bullets holes and deep gashes; most of the paint was gone, and all that was really left was the sheetrock. The passage ended only a short way into the precinct, giving way to a large open semi-circular area that was a riddled with war wounds as was everything else. To the north were interrogation rooms that smelled faintly of blood that somebody hadn’t quite managed to clean up and bathrooms that not even cockroaches were brave enough to go into. The south end was supposed to host evidence and records rooms; both had been trashed so severely, by officers and civilians alike, that most cops just took the evidence home with them. It was a lot safer and it wasn’t like the chain of evidence was going to matter in this district, now was it?

To Thomas’ complete lack of surprise, there was nobody in the precinct at the moment, not even the desk sergeant. Most cops in the Gutters didn’t bother with dragging their victims down to the precincts to exact whatever they felt they were due and few people would come down here to make a complaint. Mostly they’d pay the Irish or, if they were really desperate, head over to Suicide Row in the north and beg the vampires for help. Personally, Thomas would have trusted the bloodsuckers long before she trusted any gangsters, but maybe that was just her. Either way, there was no real need to be at the precinct. It didn’t stop Captain Westenra’s detectives from coming in, but they were outliers. Too honest to just go with the flow, too proud to quit or join Standard Tech. Weirdos in a weird city.

Thomas made her way past the sergeant’s desk and up the north staircase until she reached the second floor. Then she headed south, down to where Captain Westenra’s office was. Thomas took a deep breath once she had reached the door and knocked once.

“Come in,” came the voice from behind the door. Thomas opened the door and walked in.

Captain Westenra’s office was actually quite large for a captain’s office, though that was probably because she had taken over the district commander’s office while he was busy employing the services of a girl whom could almost believe was eighteen. Almost. A large oak desk, allegedly a gift from the Deadman nemself, covered the west wall, facing east. Along the bare plaster walls were landscape photos. Peeking out behind the photos were craters that some previous occupant of the office had left behind. Between the desk and the door where a pair of chairs that looked like they had been fending off an invading army of goats, moths, and rats for the last six months. The carpet on the floor was threadbare, with a couple of dark stains on it that Thomas desperately hoped was blood. A small single pendant light hung down from the ceiling, it’s light dimmed by the insects that had died in their futile quest to get some brightness into their day. Jesus, but Thomas felt maudlin tonight.

Seated in the chairs where two men. One was short and kind of lanky, in a dark leather jacket whose best day had been more than twenty years ago. The man’s dark slacks were in much better shape, though his sneakers weren’t. Under the jacket, he wore a black t-shirt with white lettering on it that read ‘Black Lives Matter.’ A dangerous shirt to wear in the Fort City Police Department, but what did he care? Jack Callaghan was never going to rise above the rank of Detective. Not after he’d humiliated the SWAT team leader the way he had, bringing a dangerous suspect alive like that without ever touching his gun. Fucking cops. Jack grinned at Thomas, ruffling his blacker than midnight hair. His face, with Mickey Mouse nose and ears bigger than Thomas’ hands, looked even more battered and leathery tonight than it usually did. Still, Thomas grinned back. Jack had been her partner in this strange, morbid city for the last few months, and was one of the few people that the former Detroit native liked. Outside of Standard Tech, that was.

The other man in the other chair was about the size of two Jacks, maybe two and a half. Certainly, he was too big for his seat. He had a rectangular face with a squared off chin and skin as dark as some of the operations Thomas had been on in the Rangers. His nose had been mashed flat but some overeager punk with a grudge against the local cops. That was the official story, anyway; Thomas had heard tell that the beating had actually come from a patrol captain who didn’t like how Sergeant Ethan Young had run his patrols. Given what Thomas had seen in two separate police departments in two separate cities, she wouldn’t have been surprised if both stories were true. At any rate, Sergeant Young looked up at Thomas with bulging eyes, brow furrowed. His hair was close-cropped, and he wore a navy suit that was just a half size too small for his bulging muscles. Thomas noted that the Sergeant looked better than when she had seen him last time; probably patched things up with his boyfriend, Thomas decided.

Finally, Thomas turned to look at the dame sitting behind the desk. Captain Westenra was the largest bull terrier Thomas had ever seen: all compact ferocity and tightly coiled discipline. Her face was oddly triangular, with a nose that just barely rose up from the rest of her face. Her hair was the same colour as an emergency flare and her eyes were the colour of burning copper. She wore a navy suit that was a much better fit than the one that Sergeant Young wore; Thomas knew that that suit was indeed a gift after Westenra’s last suit had been destroyed helping out Standard Tech. The suit had arrived anonymously but given just how well it had been tailored there had been no doubt who it had been from. Thomas suspected that the captain wouldn’t have worn the suit if the option had been available, but it hadn’t, and so Captain Westenra wore a suit that almost certainly came from Joey Bianco. In its own way, that was more dangerous than Jack’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ shirt.

“Good to see you, Detective,” Westenra said, her voice low and husky. Thomas had no idea if the rumours about Westenra and Bianco were true, or if the cunning young bloodsucker was just trying to get another good cop onto nirs team, but if they were true, Thomas had to concede the vampire had good taste. Westenra had a raw, animal charisma to her, something that Thomas felt pulling at her all the time. Or maybe she was just missing another woman’s touch. That could be it, too. “I’d offer you a seat, but these two assholes apparently don’t know how to treat a lady,” Westenra continued, gesturing to the two men.

“It’s all right, Captain,” Thomas said. “I can stand.”

“I could—” Jack began, but Thomas cut him off.

“It’s all right, Jack,” she said with a slight smile. “I’m good.”

“Right,” Westenra said, gazing sceptically at Thomas before continuing on. “The evening briefing, such as it is. Jack, Mary, good work on nailing Cahal Mac Cormaic. We’ve wanted that bastard for a long time.”

“Yeah, it’s just a shame we won’t be able to keep him,” Jack said sourly. “I hear he’s already made bail. And the judge is totally in his pocket.”

“Thanks for ruining the mood, Jack,” Thomas said jokingly. Jack just shrugged.

“Jack’s right,” Westenra said wearily, rubbing her hand over her face. “In fact, the judge has already found several dozen ‘errors’ in our case work and is probably going to censure us. Again.”

“You know, Detroit’s a hellhole,” Thomas pointed out. “But this would be too much, even for Detroit.”

“Can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen,” Jack suggested.

“Hysterical. Do you have anything valuable to contribute, or are you just going to keep mouthing off like a jackass?” Thomas demanded pointedly.

“Mouthing off, I suppose,” Jack said with a shrug. “It’s not like we can do anything else.”

Thomas opened her mouth to speak, but before she could, Westenra waved her shut. “Lay off you two,” she said. “I know it’s bad, Mary. And the Gutters are worse than just about any other place in Fort City. And it’s only going to get worse: Rollins and Bianco are heading for a major clash.”

“That’s not news,” Thomas pointed out sourly. “Bianco and Rollins were always going to butt heads. They hate each other worse than the Achaeans and the Trojans ever did.”

That got blank looks from the two men and a slight lip twitch that might have been a smile from Westenra. “While Rollins and Bianco clashing may not be news,” Westenra said, clearly trying to smother her amusement, “the fact is that it’s going to go pretty bad for us while they do ram into each other like a pair of male moose in rutting season. The fact is, this precinct is seen as the pro-Standard Tech precinct by our department and is seen as just another bunch of Rollins’ stooges by Standard Tech. And shirts like that,” Westenra added, jabbing a finger at Jack, “don’t help.” Jack shrugged.

“I’m tired of cozying up to our colleague’s tender sensibilities, Cap,” Jack said. “We know damned well that Rollins’ is a racist, sexist bigot and that he supports the crap out of racist, sexist policies. Might as well call him out now. It’s not like we’re not already on everybody’s shit list anyway.”

“Maybe we should try getting off the shit list and not dig ourselves deeper into it?” Sergeant Young said pointedly. “That’s what the captain’s saying.”

Jack shrugged again. “It’s your people they’re murdering,” he pointed out. “Not mine. If you’re cool with cops gunning down young black kids for the kicks, well I guess I got no choice, do I? Got to go with the local expert.”

Young opened his mouth to respond angrily, but Westenra waved them off again.

“Enough, enough! We’ve got enough to worry about without you two snapping each other’s heads off,” Westenra said. “Both of you have a point. Rollins and the policies that have preceded Rollins for the last fifty fucking years are indefensible. But we aren’t helping matters by going by the ‘if they think we’re traitors, let’s act like traitors’ route, either.”

“Maybe we just jump ship to Standard Tech,” Thomas muttered. As soon as she said it, she regretted it. The reactions were immediate and predictable.

“No,” Westenra said reflexively. “No fucking chance.”

“Captain—” Thomas began.

“No,” Westenra repeated. “No fucking way. We’re the cops in this town, not that bloodsucking bastard. Hell’ll freeze over before I trust nem again.”

“Captain, with all due respect,” Thomas said carefully, “Standard Tech is doing our job. The FCPD has, for the last fifty years, been slowly becoming the mayor’s jackbooted enforcers. We don’t uphold the law anymore; we uphold whatever Jim Stranger tells us to uphold. If we want to be cops, then maybe we should start thinking about joining the organization that would, you know, actually let us be cops.”

Westenra glared at Thomas through heavily-lidded eyes, and Thomas felt herself wilt under the glare. Nevertheless, it had to be said. The FCPD had become a joke. Whatever honour that had once been in serving under its blue flag had long since evaporated. Sergeant Young spoke up:

“As much as I don’t want to join the vampire legions, Thomas may have a point. There is some serious chatter about scrapping the FCPD as no longer fit to police this city. If they do that, we’re going to be left out in the cold.”

“The only person that chatter is coming from is that damned lunatic Heaven Chiao,” Westenra ground out.

“No, there’s been some talk from the feds, too,” Jack said slowly. “You know Rollins and Stranger killed that DOJ investigation dead, and Umberto Constanza is making some serious noise over it. Plus, there’s that Councillor for Zion, what was her name? Alex something.”

“Kalivas, Alexandra Kalivas,” Thomas answered. “Word is that New Tara and Little Africa are both thinking of re-activating their old night watch units, too. I didn’t know that you could do that in a city?”

“The Fort isn’t really one whole unified town,” Young answered. “It’s more like New York or Toronto, that way. Zion, Little Africa, and New Tara are the originals, the seed cities that would become the Fort. As such, they have the right to police themselves. Little Africa and New Tara gave up that right for the FCPD, and Zion kept Standard Tech on as their police unit. You’ll notice that nobody from our outfit catches cases up there?”

“Unless they call us in,” Thomas agreed. “I thought that was just a vampire thing, though.”

“That’s definitely part of it,” Westenra said. She leaned back in her chair and cocked her head so that it rested in the palm of her left hand. “Talk to me, Sergeant. What’s the likelihood of any of that happening?”

“Pretty good, to be honest,” Young answered. “The feds are talking about setting up another DOJ investigation. And Chiao is starting to rack up some serious support amongst the minorities in this town. Especially the Chinese, but according to the rumours she’s pulling in support from the Vietnamese, Japanese, and Koreans too.”

“Now there’s a dangerous combination,” Jack said with a sly grin. “That lot hasn’t gotten along in what, fifty years?”

“Not since Faraday,” Young agreed. “How she’s managed to do it, I don’t know. Word is is that she’s pulling in less support from the Latinos and Blacks, but she’s making inroads there, too. That last massive Black Lives Matter rally? The one that shut down the Crossroads for sixteen hours? Yeah, apparently she didn’t just show up for it. She organized the whole damned rally. Allegedly, anyway. And we all know the kind of support she’s pulling from the vamps.”

“Just because she can get that damned bloodsucker to eat dinner with her,” Westenra said languidly, “doesn’t mean she’s actually getting their support. Bianco’s as cagey as a rat, and Jess isn’t a whole hell of a lot better. No, there’s some dancing there to be done yet.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Jack said, that sly grin still on his face. “Stranger’s got a stranglehold on the only suckers in town who actually bother to vote! Old, doddering white folk.”

“I’m surprised at your disdain for your own people, Jack,” Young kidded with a raised eyebrow.

“When was the last time you saw an Irish vote?” Jack countered. “Or anybody else, for that matter? This is the city that doesn’t vote and we all know it.”

“That might explain why you’re all so screwed up,” Thomas muttered.

“Ya think?” Westenra asked sarcastically.

“Well, Chiao certainly thinks so,” Young answered. “She’s gone on a major voting registration program. Damned near voting conscription, if you know what I mean. Hammering at the doors all night and day. And it’s mainly targeted at young people. Check the Twitter feeds or Facebook. You can’t escape her.”

“What’s she promising?” Westenra said wearily.

“Some Bernie Sanders shit,” Young said with a snort. “You and I both know how likely any of that is to succeed. But it got the youth up during the Demo primary, maybe it’ll do the same here.”

“Lie to the young ‘uns and hope they’re stupid enough to believe you and come out and vote?” Thomas said.

“It’s the American Way,” Young answered, spreading his arms wide.

“Look, the point is we need to do something,” Jack said. “Either way this goes, we’re out in the cold, Cap. And you know it. Either Chiao wins and the whole FCPD gets thrown out with the bathwater or Rollins wins and kills us because we’re no longer needed to keep somebody else on the totem pole happy. We’re the rejects, Captain. Maybe it’s time we started rejecting everybody else, too.”

Westenra slowly leaned back up in her chair and said: “I’m not willing to call it quits on this department yet. And I’m not going to go groveling back to that bastard. So for now, we’re just going to do the best we can with what we’ve got. Jack, Thomas, there’s been a domestic down on Kilt Street. I want you to go check it out.”

“Yes, Captain,” Jack and Thomas said in unison, and then left the captain’s office.

#

The drive down to Kilt Street was quite and anti-climactic after the argument in Captain Westenra’s office. Thomas and Jack had piled into Jack’s green coupé and drove down the twisting roads until they hit the housing complex that had called in the domestic. Jack parked on the west side of the street, and Thomas got out.

“It isn’t you, you know,” Jack said as he, too, got out of the car.

“Isn’t me what?” Thomas asked stretching. She looked around the street. It was hard to see anything in the Fort City gloom because all the street lights had been knocked out, but Thomas had long ago been trained to see in the dark. The sidewalk, or what was left of it, was cracked and overgrown with weeds. The houses looked like they hadn’t been repaired since the fifties. Or maybe since the Depression. The walls were broken, in some places right through to the inside of the building. Some of the windows were boarded up. Others were completely empty, sitting there like open wounds. Roofs had holes in them. Thomas shook her head. It looked like something out of Iraq. Or Afghanistan, maybe. “What happened here?” she asked.

Jack took a look around, snorted. “What didn’t happen here?” he answered. “This is the Gutters, kiddo, the Fort City dumping grounds. It was always the kind of place where the pols dumped the, uh, ‘undesirables’ of society, but it got a lot worse in the Depression. Some stupid proto-Randian local pol decided he didn’t like the New Deal, that the Gutters could pull itself out on its own. You can see how well that worked,” he added, gesturing to the street.

“Rep or Demo?” Thomas said, moving on towards the house where the domestic had been called.

“Demo, believe it or not,” Jack said, hustling to keep up with Thomas’ longer stride. “That was back in the old days when the Demos were the party of crazy racists and stupid ass-economics. The last few idiots here have all been Reps, though. Fuck, I wish we could kill ’em both. Just line ’em up and gun ’em down, you know what I mean?”

“Jack, I’ve seen your pistol scores. You’re the last person I’d want shooting a gun at anybody,” Thomas said as she sidled up to the left side of the door and pulled out her department issue-piece.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Jack demanded as he mirrored her actions on the right side. Notably, he didn’t take out his pistol.

“You know exactly what I mean,” Thomas said, and then nodded at Jack. Jack knocked on the door, and an overweight man with pasty skin and long greasy hair dressed in nothing but a wife beater that might have been white once and a pair of boxers that didn’t bear thinking about came barrelling out of the door.

“What? What?” he demanded. “Oh, it’s just you Jack. What the fuck are you doing here? Nothing you can do.”

“Captain says that there was a domestic here,” Thomas said from the other side of the door.

“Couple hundred of those a day,” the man said. He looked Thomas up and down and snorted. “I know you. That dumbass dame who still walks the beat in the mornings, like she’s some kind of Standard Tech goon. Jesus, I thought the cops had gotten smarter in this town. Sheriff, that’s what they call you, right?”

“Forgive me for not wanting to surrender an entire neighbourhood to the local gangs,” Thomas snapped. “And it’s Detective Thomas, thank you.”

“Jesus, Jack,” the man said with a laugh, “but isn’t she just fucking precious! Goddamned hero cop, goddamn! What about you, Jack? What are you here for?”

“Murphy, I just go where the Captain tells me too,” Jack said with a shrug.

“I’m sure,” Murphy said with another laugh. He turned back to Thomas and said: “Well, sheriff, you’re in luck. The little lady that was getting thrown around asked for you specifically. I thought she’d lost her mind, or I would have said something earlier. Anyway, come on in. Don’t worry about our little abuser, either. He, uh, ended up getting some buckshot for breakfast.” With another laugh, Murphy went back into the house. Thomas and Jack followed him in, through the rotting corridor and into the kitchen, where a man lay dead with most of his skull missing from an apparent shotgun wound. Seated around the table in the middle of the kitchen were three women. Jack and Murphy gathered around the body and started to haul it off. Thomas went to the table and sat across from the women.

“Molly?” Thomas said gently, looking down at the dark-skinned woman with a nasty shiner over her left eye. Molly looked back up, pushing her hair out of her eyes.

“Sheriff,” Molly said with a croak. “Glad you could make it.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get here earlier,” Thomas began, but Molly cut her off.

“It’s all right,” Molly said. “You warned me not to take him back, but I did, and now I got this shiner. That wasn’t why I asked you here, anyway.”

“No? Why did you?” Thomas asked.

“A warning,” Molly answered. “Nobody’s gonna care that I killed this fool, but they’re gonna care that you beat his ass last week. Get out of here, Sheriff. The mob’s looking for you.”

“Let ’em,” Thomas said, much more harshly than she’d intended. “I’ve faced worse.”

“Maybe you have,” Molly replied, “and maybe you haven’t. That doesn’t matter. What is important is that you brought little Joey home last week. And that you stomped all over that goddamned pimp the week before and got all those girls out and into Zion. What matters is that you’ve been causing trouble for the bosses, and you’re too good a person to just let go. Get out of here, Sheriff. Get going while the going’s good.”

“Molly, just how do you know all this?” Thomas said, her suspicion aroused. “And what did you mean that nobody would care if you killed this guy?”

Molly shrugged. “I’m sorry Sheriff,” she said. “You’ve done all right by me, and I’d like to do right by you. I run this place for Irish Mob, see? And you, you’re bad for business. But you’re a sweetheart, and I’d hate to see somebody like you get killed ’cause they’re just too much of a girl scout to leave things well enough alone. Do what you told those girls to. Get to Zion, go sling guns for the vampires. They’re always looking for good talent, I’m sure they’d take you.”

“Thanks for the tip, Molly,” Thomas said, her tone as cold as the black hole that had seemed to arisen in her chest. “I’ll take it under advisement. I’ll catch you later, you goddamned punk.” With that, Thomas got up out of the chair and all but ran out of the house. She stopped at the car and rested on it, tears running down her face. Jack came up behind her a second later.

“You all right, kiddo?” he asked.

“I shoulda let that bastard do whatever he wanted with that fucking bitch,” Thomas said savagely.

“No, you shouldn’t have,” Jack said firmly as he got into the car. “And you know that, too. So just relax, girlie. It’s not all bad. Of course, I’m never going to let that ‘Sheriff’ thing go, you realize that right?”

“To hell with you, Jack,” Thomas said softly as she followed him into the car. “To absolute hell with you.”

She never should have left Detroit.