The first short story in the Brockhold universe is live for Patrons! This story establishes some of the background for the upcoming Brockhold novel.
Come and have a gander!
The first short story in the Brockhold universe is live for Patrons! This story establishes some of the background for the upcoming Brockhold novel.
Come and have a gander!
Check it out here: https://www.patreon.com/joshstoodley?fan_landing=true
Probably Tuesday. If you want to read it, my patreon is here: https://www.patreon.com/joshstoodley?fan_landing=true.
Goooooooooood morning internet!
Well, the last month and a half have been less than stellar for me, but I’m back and raring to go!
And now, with actual deadlines. Let’s take a look, shall we:
-The Uncanny X-Men will return on July 20th, 2017. I know that’s a long wait, but trust me it’s worth it. After July 20th, the Uncanny X-Men will return to being updated on a weekly basis.
-My next novel (still untitled) is tentatively scheduled for an end of September release date. Stay tuned for updates!
-The short stories will return on June 1st.
-An new fanfic series, sharing the same universe as the Uncanny X-Men, titled The Amazing Spider-Man, will begin appearing roughly mid-September. Again, more on that as time goes on.
That’s all there is for this week! I’ll see you all next time.
Gloria Jones looked in the mirror in the south-east bathroom on the sixth floor of Sanctuary and laughed at the cheesy image. She was a young woman with medium brown skin, a thick mop of kinky hair, a flat nose and thick lips. And she was dressed in the cheesiest, most stereotypical vampire costume anybody could think of. The red-lined black opera cape, the white waistcoat, the black tailcoat… if there was a more stereotypical vampire costume out there, Gloria hadn’t seen it. She had even applied blood red makeup to one corner of her lips to look like blood and had gotten a set of cheap plastic vampire fangs to put on her own teeth. Gloria Jones was ready for Halloween.
What made her choice of costume hilarious, at least to Gloria, was that she had, in the past year, chosen to live with the vampires of Fort City. And they weren’t anything like the classic movie monsters.
Well, maybe a little like the classics, Gloria thought as she exited the bathroom. They did have a profound love of opera and theatre, after all.
Gloria made her way down the stairs, careful not to let her cape get snagged on anything. As she walked down the stairs, she passed other denizens of Sanctuary, each decked out in their own variety of gaudy costumes. Here and there were goblins, ghosts, monstrous clowns, comic book heroes such as Batman, Batgirl and Batwoman, and more than a few who had kept their normal Gothic dress and were going as themselves. Gloria ducked, dodged slid out of the way of her fellow costumed types, careful not to step on anybody else’s cape and to not let anybody step on hers, either. With some effort, Gloria made it down to the northeast corner of Sanctuary; that part of the brownstone complex that the vampires had reserved for themselves. Most of the time anyway; Halloween night was always an exception.
Coming down from the stairs, Gloria turned into the northeast corner to see tall, lanky Joey Bianco dressed in a purple trench coat and equally purple suit, with his face shifted into a blank, featureless mask. The shirt was yellow, to contrast the with the purple suit jacket and the purple tie, and Joey also wore a pair of black gloves.
“Wow, that’s really cool,” Gloria said. “How’d you get your face like that?”
“That is the question,” Bianco answered. Jessica bat Jacob walked up behind him and slapped him lightly on the back of the head. Jess was dressed in a form-fitting catsuit. Her long brown hair had been squished into a soft leather helmet with a chin strap and pointing cat ears. A pair of red-tinted goggles were strapped to her forehead. On her feet were a pair of ankle boots, as black as the rest of the costume. Surprisingly, Jess wasn’t wearing any gloves with her costume; Gloria supposed that was because she didn’t want to scratch Joey every time they touched.
“Catwoman, cool,” Gloria said. “Does the Bat know you’re cheating on him with The Question?”
Somewhere to her left, somebody let out a stifled giggle. Jess merely arched an eyebrow and said:
“And to think I used to worry that you weren’t going to fit in…”
“Clearly, that is not the question,” Joey said. Jess groaned, and Gloria giggled before turning left towards the dining room and the chocolate covered goodies that lay upon it.
“Trust me, it’s a lot funnier when you haven’t heard all of those question puns over and over again,” Mikhail Ivanovich Tchaikovsky said sourly from the far left end of the table, where he was currently scowling at his laptop screen. Tchaikovsky had decided to dress like some ancient Mongol warrior, complete with the spiked helmet that now lay on the table.
“Mr Bianco doesn’t dress like the Question every year, does he?” Gloria asked, sitting down at the table across from Tchaikovsky.
“Either that or Rorschach,” Jen said cheerfully from where she was sitting to Gloria’s right further down the table. Like Tchaikovsky, Jen had gone with an ancient warrior motif, albeit of a more Celtic design. Her face was covered in blue temporary tattoos that looked a lot like vines, and over her armour, she wore a green wrap. “How’s it going sunshine?”
“Not bad,” Gloria answered looking down the table towards Jen. “You?”
“Peachy keen, always,” Jen said brightly. “After the kids are done their trick-or-treating, me and Gears and the rest are going to the dancehall for some kicks. Wanna tag?”
“I’ll ask Harper,” Gloria said. “I don’t think she’ll say no, but on the other hand, I think she wanted to stay in tonight. And I’ve, uh, been kind of putting her off, lately.”
“Cool beans,” Jen said. “Dancehall’s open all night anyhow, so if you and Harper do decide to drop in…”
“I dig,” Gloria said.
“Dig what?” came a voice from the south exit of the dining room. Gloria turned to see Gearhead ‘Gears’ Lee come walking into the room. Gears had not gone to anywhere near the trouble that her moll had in picking out her costume; instead, she wore a leather corset with intricate scroll-work over top of her usual tight leather pants. The corset bared Gears’ arms, showing off both her extra large guns and the intricate tattoos that all vampires and their servants bore. Gloria had to admit that it was a good look for the other black woman; though when you looked as good as Gears, everything was a good look for you.
“Just inviting Gloria to that party at the dancehall, baby,” Jen said as Gears walked up to her moll and leaned down to give the redhead a kiss. Jen craned her neck to reach the taller woman before stretching her arms out to pull Gears even closer. Gloria, who was familiar with just how much passion those two could pour out, pointedly turned away to observe the other two women that had come in with Gears.
One was Gears’ cousin, Yun Lee, who was dressed up like an enormous pink flower that contrasted mightily with the permanent scowl on her face. Gloria didn’t like Yun Lee; she was abrasive, demeaning and just generally hard to get along with. But, credit where credit’s due: when Gears had run from whatever hell her family situation had been, Yun had been the second person to adopt the young black women into the Lee clan. And when Gloria had similarly bolted from the teeming mass of humanity, Yun had organized a welcoming party and clothing drive to help Gloria get on her feet and stay there.
“The fuck you looking at, cupcake?” Yun demanded of Gloria.
“Just trying to figure out who’d be cruel enough to stuff a bitch in a flower costume,” Gloria answered. “Pretty sure that borders on animal cruelty.”
The other people around the table let out a series of awed whistles. The girl beside Yun, however, just laughed. She was a little shorter than Yun, who nearly rivalled Gears in height, being a bit closer to Gloria or Jen in size. Her skin was a lighter brown than Gloria’s, prompting the occasional racist assumption, but the flat nose with its broad nostrils and black hair that hang down in thick ropes give evidence to her true African heritage. Her lips were thick and full, given to easy smiles. Tonight, she was wearing blue coveralls over a red shirt with white gloves on her hands, and a red cap with a red ‘M’ in a white circle on it. The dame in question was Latifah Murphy, social justice activist and Gears’ best friend.
“Leave poor Yun alone, G,” Latifah said. “She’s already traumatized by having to pretend to be happy.”
Yun stuck her tongue out at Latifah and stalked over towards the end of the table where she managed to squeeze herself onto one of the chairs. Latifah chuckled before turning around to say something to Gloria. Just then, Bianco walked into the dining room from the kitchen.
“I thought I heard your dulcet tones, Yun,” he said, his voice muffled from the mask. “Just a friendly reminder: we want to scare the kids, not give them permanent psychological damage. Clear?”
“Crystal,” Yun grumbled.
“Good,” Joey said with a nod, though his tone made it clear he didn’t quite believe that Yun had gotten the message. Fair’s fair, neither did Gloria. Turning to Latifah, the vampire said:
“Latifah. What’s new?”
“Nothing much,” the dame answered, breezily. “This isn’t racist against Italians, right?” she asked next, her tone turning nervous, gesturing to her Mario costume.
“For the fourteenth time, no,” Joey answered.
“Just checking,” Latifah said, clearly relieved.
“Right,” Joey said dryly.
“Okay does everybody know the plan?” Jess asked as she walked in from the kitchen.
“Give the little brats who come up to the door cavities and diabetes,” Tchaikovsky answered, yawning.
“Yes thank you, Mishka, for that small contribution,” Jess said sarcastically.
“Actually Tchaikovsky, we’ve got something a little extra tonight,” Joey said. “Something just for all the little lambs and puppies.”
“What, you’re gonna sing?” Tchaikovsky asked.
“Oh god no,” Jen answered in Joey’s place. “But we are.”
“Oh yeah? Sing what?”
“What else?” Jen answered with a shrug. “This Is Halloween.”
Thought that week would never end…
Just a quick update today, guys. This Is Halloween is done, and it’ll be up in a week. The Uncanny X-Men and my fourth novel (no title yet) are coming along nicely.
Check back here and on my Patreon page for better updates and some Star Wars analysis.
Good morning. There are a few things I want to discuss today.
The first is the delay in the next short story. It’s not coming out in January; it will, however, be ready for the end of February/beginning of March.
Secondly, I have the beginnings of a plot for my next novel. It’s not quite there yet, but it’s definitely coming together. Still don’t have a title I like, though.
Thirdly, the work on Uncanny X-Men is likewise coming together. I expect updates to begin again at the end of February. I will keep you updated.
Finally, I want to discuss Donald Trump and his illegal, unethical, immoral and anti-American Muslim ban. Look, I’m not a liberal, feminist or much of anything really; I’m just a Canadian kid trying to make it as an author. But I know my history. And I know that Benjamin Franklin, quoted right there in the title, was absolutely right.
To begin with, Donald Trump’s executive order is both illegal and unconstitutional. Under the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951, of which the United States is a signatory and therefore the treaty is considered federal law, it is forbidden to discriminate against any refugee on the basis of their religion. Further, the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act prohibit such discrimination as well. But finally, there is the First Amendment of the American Constitution which states very clearly that the United States Government will not establish or support any religion at the Federal or State level. The United States of America, by both law and constitution, is a secular country.
In addition, the ban violates the provisions of the 1951 Convention that claim that a refugee has the right to their family, and should not be separated.
Secondly, Trump’s order pole vaults over any ethical line. It was not established with due consideration from either the State Department or Justice, and it’s poor wording and vague language have left authorities at the airports stuck with a bad order they can’t enforce. No wonder the lawyers are having a field day with it.
That is not, however, the only ethical violation. None of the seven countries listed in Trump’s ban have actively contributed to anti-American or even anti-Western terrorism. Several other countries, however, such as Saudi Arabia, have. They are not listed in this ban. Why? Because they fill Donald Trump’s already full-pockets with yet more money. This executive order does not do what it claims to do, protect Americans, and is tainted with conflict-of-interest.
Thirdly, the order is deeply, utterly immoral. Immanuel Kant, the great German philosopher, tells us that human beings are ends in and of themselves. That they should be treated with all the due respect and dignity of any autonomous agent. This order does not do so; it reduces hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the worst sort of depravity into nothing more than shadowy figures of nightmare; perpetrators of some as yet uncommitted crime. So much for innocent until proven guilty, eh?
But lastly, and most importantly, the order is a deep and ruthless betrayal of everything it has ever meant to be American. Look, I’m Canadian. Like most people outside of the States, I have at best an ambivalent attitude towards your country: you’re arrogant, self-righteous, poorly educated. You dominate any conversation you’re in and never look outside yourselves at the world around you. The only experiences that matter, in history or sociology, are those that happen to the United States of America and to Americans.
But. But you have also been capable of greatness unparalleled. My country has a reputation as peacekeepers and we did indeed invent the UN Peacekeeping force, but those efforts were built on the back of American muscle. Yours was the first Republican experiment in centuries, and you paved the way for other republics and constitutional monarchies to follow. The blood you shed, and even more importantly, your massive industrial and economic power, was vital to stopping the greatest evil that has ever threatened the world. Yours is a country of immigrants who made it; who survived and thrived, who were… all right, not welcomed. Not at first. But who proved to be vital to the weaving of the tapestry that is the United States of America.
This executive order is a rejection of that. It is a rejection of the immigrant story, of the quintessentially American narrative. It is a betrayal of everything you are, of everything you could be.
Benjamin Franklin would never have stood for this.
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.
Whooo kay, this has been a long week:
Until next week!
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.