Angles of the Docks
by Josh Stoodley
The tide was coming in. Down in the southern belly of Fort City, in the Harbor District, the tide was rolling in, carrying with it ships from all over the world.
The Harbor District was not the sole source of Fort City’s wealth and power, though it did explain much of that vile city’s ability to weather storm after storm. The Harbor was only slightly smaller than the New York Harbor to the west, and the nightly volume of cargo was well over one hundred million tonnes. Within the port itself, between the gaping jaws of the Fort City walls, lay thousands of warehouses and docks; never fully empty. The Harbor District ran twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, hauling all sorts of cargo from as near as Britain and the western coast of Europe, and as far away as China and Japan. Tonight, however, the combined force of Fort City police officers and Standard Tech Security Department agents stood on the Nor’Easter Dock awaiting one single boat in particular.
Elizabeth Mary Thomas, Detective Third Grade of what remained of the Gutters Precinct and fresh from Detroit, shivered in her tan trench coat. Some of that was the cold; the Fort’s weather had gone weird again, according to the locals, and what was supposed to be a warm week according to the Weather Channel, had turned icier than Pluto. The Weather Channel couldn’t explain it; they swore up and down that the Fort was really quite warm and they didn’t know where all these reports about freezing weather had come from. The Fort Citizens, for their part, simply laughed it off. They were used to their city’s strange and unusual weather patterns, and rarely if ever paid any attention to the Weather Channel any way.
But the weather was not all that was bothering Detective Thomas, not by a long shot. First, there was the boat they were waiting for. According to the Coast Guard, it was a slave ship, hauling in hundreds of people packed together like cheap sardines. Thomas had met more than her fair share of slavers during the Iraq War and afterwards in Detroit. She had no desire to renew her aquitance with such horrors, and understood why all of Fort City hated such vermin with every cell in their body.
Unfortunately, such hatred just made everybody tense and in a crowd comprised of FCPD and Security Department officers, ‘tense’ was the wrong thing to be. Tensions had been heating up between the FCPD and the Security Department… well, really, since long before Thomas got here, but especially within the last year or so. According to the FCPD, the Security Department was a band of ran amateurs who should have never been let anywhere near a police investigation; according to the Security Department, the FCPD was a band of thugs and white terrorists who murdered little girls for fun. Under Jeffery Rollins, whose nephew Herbert Moon had murdered Akisha Jones, Thomas was inclined to believe the Security Department over the FCPD but as she was already in the doghouse with her superiors didn’t dare voice her opinion. Not that she needed too; she was in Captain Westenra’s precinct and therefore everyone assumed she was secretly in the Security Department’s pocket anyway. It was almost enough for Thomas to take up bourbon again.
Beside her, in a black dress shirt, slacks, tie and trench coat, a young dame with a flat nose and kinky hair shivered and snuggled deeper into her coat. The dame looked up at Thomas in disgust and said:
“Aren’t you cold?”
“Nope,” Thomas said, teasing the other woman just a little.
The dame in question snorted. “Crazy white people,” she muttered.
“Aren’t you Tech? Part of the Flock? Are you even allowed to think in those kinds of racialized terms?” Thomas said, teasing her just a little more.
“Just joined,” the dame replied, “so I haven’t lost all of my primitive human biases yet. Besides, ditching them has proven kind of hard over the last little while, what with all that’s been going on as of late.”
“I know what you mean,” Thomas agreed sourly. Once upon a time, she had been proud to be a cop. These days? If it weren’t for Westenra, she wouldn’t be putting on the uniform at all.
“Sure you do,” the other dame said, not quite believing Thomas. “Anyway, my name’s Gloria. Gloria Jones.”
“Jones? As in Akisha Jones’ sister?” Thomas asked, turning to the other woman in surprise.
“That’s me,” Gloria answered. “I guess Akisha’s murder was the talk of the precinct, huh?”
“Elizabeth Mary Thomas,” Thomas replied, sticking her hand out. “I was the FCPD officer who first responded to your sister’s… murder. I’m sorry.”
Gloria looked Thomas up and down before shaking her hand. “Don’t be,” she said. “Bianco and Ryan caught the guy, right? Just wasn’t your jurisdiction.”
“Nephew of the boss murders somebody, means the department murdered somebody,” Thomas said firmly. “We should have investigated, not helped that fat bastard cover it up.”
Gloria looked up at Thomas strangely. She said: “You know, Ms. bat Jacob always says that cop guilt is unhealthy. Just pointing that out there.”
“Spoken like a true civilian,” Thomas said, her tone laced with scorn. “Wait until you’ve been on the beat for a few years. Then cop guilt is the only thing you’ve got holding you together.”
Gloria turned to face forward, the breath coming out of her in a heavy sigh. “Momma was right,” she said. “Should’ve picked a different career.”
“Damn straight,” Thomas said, turning to face the same way as Gloria. They were in for a long night. Thomas reached into her jacket for a mickey of hot chocolate and slugged it down. She would have preferred something stronger, just to get the heebie-jeebies out of her system, but that would have been unconsionable on the job so she settled for the hot chocolate.
“I’ve never been on an operation like this before,” Gloria admitted from beside her. “What’ll it be like?”
“We won’t have to do much,” Thomas assured her. “There’re too many cops here to be used in any kind of practical way, so I’m betting that the work of actually capturing the bastards has already been done. Either by the Coast Guard or some elite SWAT team pulled together for the occasion. You see those ambulances way over there?” Thomas added, jerking her head towards the other end of the docks, where there was indeed gathered a large number of ambulances and paramedics.
“Yeah,” Gloria answered.
“Right, well those are the guys who are going to doing the bulk of the work,” Thomas said. “They’re the ones who are going to take care of all the kids we rescue and get them checked out and everything. The rest of us are just here for the photo op, really.”
“That doesn’t sound like Bianco,” Gloria said, just a little defensively.
Thomas had to fight back a grin. It sounded exactly like the slick, talk-his-way-into-and-out-of-trouble vampire that Captain Westenra had described to her, but that may not be the best thing to bring up to this kid. “There’s some solid tactical thinking here,” Thomas said instead. “For one thing, having an army of cops show up right on the docks to arrest the people who were abusing you has got to be all kinds of reassuring. Especially if they’re bringing along medical treatment.”
“Point,” Gloria conceded. “Though that may depend on how familiar you are with American cops these days.”
“There’s that,” Thomas agreed. “On the other hand, the knowledge that they’re about to face a small army of cops is going to take the wind out of the sails of our guests, too. Especially if they’re familiar with American cops these days.”
“There is that,” Gloria agreed. She scanned the crowded docks once more. “Still, I don’t know,” Gloria said hesitantly. “Bianco always seemed so much more… solid, I guess? None of this image crap.”
“Psychological warfare is probably the most important tool a cop has,” Thomas disagreed firmly. “Everything we do is based on psychology. Individual psychology and communal psychology both. Think about it. Think about how Rollins’ witch-hunt after your sister’s murder affected you. Or even just the fact that it was his own nephew that killed your sister. What did all that do to you?”
“Drove me from my home,” Gloria answered. “And right into the vampire’s arms.”
“Right,” Thomas said. “Which means that we, the human community of Fort City, lost two people that night: your mother, and you. Joey lost all of one, and gained two. All because Rollins totally botched his end of the operation. Not that I’m saying Joey wouldn’t have investigated anyway, regardless of outcome, but look at the psychological impact of what they did.”
“Technically, Joey only gained one person,” Gloria said. “Mom didn’t stick around. But you’re right; Rollins still lost two people. Mom’s up in Vermont now. On the vampire’s dime no less.”
“Right,” Thomas said. “Because moving your mother on their dime does nothing but help the vampires. It shows that Joey and his ilk are committed to helping out the little guy, the Joe Average. Rollins, on the other hand, looks like a petty and feckless thug who doesn’t even care about his family because he lets the boy swing without even a defence lawyer. In the long run, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing a major uptick in immigration into the Barony. But even if we don’t, Baron ben Jacob’s little maneuver bought them a ton of allies in the mortal world. Anybody who’s got a grudge against the current police state and who isn’t keen on yet another dead black kid on their streets is going be appreciative of everything the vampires did, from investigating the murder to executing Moon, to hiring you to relocating your mother free of charge. Rollins, on the other hand, decided to be petty and he’s going to look petty. Even, and maybe most especially, to the white people who would normally support Rollins. After all, if he’s going to let his own nephew swing without even a token defence, what does that mean for the rest of the white community? And you know what the best part of it all is?”
“What?” Gloria said warily.
“I doubt this even crossed their minds,” Thomas, amused admiration in her voice. “What did my old sociology prof call it? Oh yeah, ‘clockwork charity.’ Bianco and Ryan investigate Akisha’s death, because that’s their jobs you know? I’m sure Bianco’s as pleased with himself as the cat who got the canary over getting one over on Rollins, but that probably came about later. At that moment, she was just another corpse he had to clean up. And Baron ben Jacob and his daughter relocating your mother for free? Well, why not? Probably wouldn’t have even shown up in their budgets. And hiring you? Joey’s a chief cop; he’s permanently desperate for more people. Unless there’s something seriously wrong with you, there wouldn’t be a chance in hell that he wouldn’t take you. No cost to the vampires at all, but a lot of major gains in there.”
“Yeah, I see your point,” Gloria said with a small laugh. “Though I’m not sure I agree. I don’t think the vampires were playing the psychological warfare game.”
“But Rollins definitely was,” Thomas said. “And he blew it. He let his nephew swing so that he could paint the vampires as murderers and people who overstep their legal bounds. But he did it in such a way that the vampires were easily able to pick up the pieces and turn them around on him. Now Rollins has done two things that a good general should never do: he let his enemies know what he that he was coming after them, and how, and he pissed of the locals. Trust me, if you want to survive as an army, that is the one thing you must never do.”
“No, I believe you,” Gloria said.
“Now this,” Thomas said waving her hand in the direction of the rest of the docks, “this is planned. And it’s going to have a much larger effect then those unplanned moves did. Bianco rolls up with an army of cops in tow to offer an official, gentle welcome to our newest citizens and scares the bad guys into coming quietly with no fuss. Easy-peasy. Plus, he gets the credit for the collar, too, because I’ll guarantee you that Rollins didn’t come up with the idea or put any work into actually captuaring these bastards.”
“I don’t take sucker bets,” Gloria said. “Against department policy. So that’s what this is all about? Getting one up on Rollins?”
“Getting one up on Rollins, getting those victims in safely, catching the bad guys without anybody getting hurt,” Thomas said, puffing out her cheeks as she did so. “Bianco wins every possible way, and kills three birds with one stone. Like I said, sound tactical thinking.”
“I guess,” Gloria said reluctantly. “I guess I’m just not used to thinking in those kinds of terms.”
“Most civvies don’t,” Thomas agreed. “And you’re still fresh as daisies. But you’ve got to learn to think that way, kiddo. Public image is vital to a cop, and you’re the only representative of your uniform most people will see. Screw up, even just once, and you kill not only your beat’s trust in you, but the public’s trust in cops in general.”
“That explains a lot of the hate Joey has for Rollins,” Gloria said. “Because all that cat does is is screw up.”
“That’s part of it,” Thomas said. “But mostly I think it’s just that Rollins is a useless jerk. Hold on, somebody’s moving up there.”
In about the middle of the dock, the crowd started shuffling around, revealing two figures. One was a short dame with bright sunny features that matched her vibrant orange hair, all wrapped up in a black trench coat and fedora, smiling and waving at all around her. The girl was a sharp contrast to the taller, gaunt figure beside her, whose ghost-like features disappeared in his version of what the dame was wearing. Thomas had heard, ever since she came to the Fort, different people characterize Joey Bianco as white or a pale Latino, maybe. Possibly an albino. Thomas had always laughed at such comments; the kind of pale Joey was could only come from somebody who was either long dead or somebody who could mimic the dead, like a vampire.
“All right ladies, gentlemen, and beings of various and indeterminate gender,” Joey Bianco said from somewhere deep inside his coat, neglecting a bullhorn yet still adiuble over the docks. “Let’s get started. You Yanks are starting to look blue in this, uh, freezing plus five degrees.”
“What are you talking about?” some cop way at the other end of the docks shouted. “It’s like, thirty out here. Not five. And where’s Rollins?”
“My esteemed colleague,” Joey said in a tone of voice that was dripping with so much sarcasm that Thomas was surprised she couldn’t literally see it dribble down his chin, “has apparently decided that staying home and getting fat on pig slop and watching bad movies on Netflix is more important than being here.”
“You shouldn’t talk about the chief that way,” another cop shouted. “Just because you’re jealous…”
“Trust me, Officer Dent, I’d love for Rollins to be here,” Joey said, cutting the cop off. “But, unfortunately, I’m not kidding about why Rollins decided to skip this little jaunt of ours. Jen, if you could play back the good police chief’s last phone call? There’s a girl.”
“You know boss,” Jennifer Anne Ryan, the tiny redhead beside Joey said mildly as she dug her boss’ phone out of his coat pocket, “one of these nights you really do need to learn how to use your own phone. Here we go.”
And with that, Rollins’ voice came out over the docks, loud and clear: “Joey, I won’t be able to make it to your stupid little stunt,” the fat police chief said. “On account of there being some good new movies on Netlix and my wife just made dinner. Have fun wasting your time.” And then the phone went dead. There was a lot of grumbling from the cops on the docks, but it ended as soon as Joey started speaking again.
“You know, I think maybe Joey needs to play the psych warfare game to just stay alive,” Gloria muttered to Thomas.
“A-yup,” Thomas agreed, a little shocked that Rollins would say that right over the phone. But Joey couldn’t be bullshitting, could he?
Thomas walked up to the pier where Joey was standing as still as a gargoyle and Jen was bouncing happily on her feet. Joey didn’t even look up. He just said:
“Detective Thomas. What can I do you for?” His voice had a flat, dead quality that made everything he said sound sarcastic, but Thomas didn’t mind. She had been accused of the same thing throughout her career.
“The total take is 103 Puerto Ricans, 125 Eastern Europeans of so far unidentified nationality, 66 Arabs of similarly unidentified nationality, 50 French, and 30 North Africans,” Thomas said, rattling the numbers off of her notepad. “Seventy-five percent are women, twenty-five are men, no individuals of non-binary gender. Or at least, none that we’ve been able to identify using on site methods or have admitted to us. Not that I’m sure that matters, but there you go. Nobody from Sub-Saharan Africa or East Asia.”
“That’s quite the haul,” Jen said, turning to face Thomas with a quizzical head tilt.
“Not really,” Joey said. “That’s only, what? 375?”
“374,” Thomas corrected. “Which is about right for the ship we pulled in. Although some of those slave ships can and do haul several thousand.”
“Big haul for the Fort,” Jen said.
“Big enough, anyway,” Joey said. “I’m more interested in the variety of ethnicity of the cargo. That’s quite the split.”
“Yeah, it kind of surprised me, too,” Thomas agreed, looking down at her notes. “Apparently, they picked up the Eastern Europeans first, in some Black Sea port, moved into the Med to pick up the French, Arabs, North Africans and then finally moved on to grab the Puerto Ricans in Spain. How that last one works, I don’t know.”
“Tourists,” Joey said confidently. “Spanish government’s been having a problem recently with tourists getting shanghaighed. The Spaniards are starting to seriously lose their cool about it, too.”
“Can you blame them?” Jen asked. “Getting your own citizens kidnapped is bad enough; somebody elses? While they’re visiting your turf? That’d make me a little frustrated, too.”
“No arguments here,” Thomas agreed.
“Hm. You get all these numbers by yourself, Detective?” Joey asked.
“No, I grabbed your girl Gloria Jones and we walked through the med stations, getting what we could,” Thomas answered. “She did great, by the way.”
“For a rookie?” Joey said, looking at Thomas for the first time with a leer that set Thomas’ teeth on edge.
“No, period,” Thomas answered, a little more forcefully than she’d intended. Joey grinned halfway.
“That’s good to hear,” he said. “About those Eastern Europeans. Where they all Slavic?”
“We’re not sure,” Thomas admitted. “They were all in a cell marked ‘Eastern Europe,’ but the EMT’s treating them were pretty sure they heard at least some Romanian in there and possibly even Czech.”
“Czech’s Slavic,” Jen said. Then she rubbed her nose. “But isn’t the Czech Republic a Central European country?”
“Clearly, geography is not our boy’s strong suit,” Joey said. “You ever been there, Detective?”
“What? To the Czech Republic? No,” Thomas said. “But I’ve always wanted to go. I hear it’s beautiful.”
“Eh, it’s all right,” Joey said, dusting off his coat. Jen snorted.
“Translation: it’s fucking gorgeous, but this pain in the ass has his standards set way too high,” Jen said harshly. Thomas chuckled. Joey looked down at Jen with a raised eyebrow. Jen looked back at him with a look that dared Joey to argue with her. Joey shrugged and looked away, apparently conceding the point. Somewhere in the distance, somebody shouted:
“I want my lawyer!” Joey shouted back:
“So call them!” There was a pause, and then the same voice shouted again:
“I want my lawyer!”
“Eh, that’s probably the only English he knows,” Joey muttered. “C’mon Jen, we’d best see how we can help our wayward friend here.”
“Right behind you boss,” Jen said.
“I’m just going to go log this, eh?” Thomas said, raising her notepad. Joey pointed to another tent down the way and Thomas headed that way. Somebody started singing ‘Angel of the Docks,’ and Thomas smiled.
Some days, it was good to be a cop.