Joe Chicago in FlightOn 2019 August 13th by monty
My dreams of producing a fully-fledged Joe Chicago novella may never come to pass, but I will always return to him; even if just to touch-up the scant few scenes that I have thus far devised.
I decided one day last year to polish up the Joe Chicago in the Angels Brothel piece that I wrote for my old Creative Writing group. I made it about three times as long (not saying much, sadly) and tried to better connect it to the other existing chapter of this loose narrative, Joe Chicago and the Case of the Fallen Angel, which shall in turn one day be completely re-written in a bout of dissatisfaction. But that’s for another time.
Shout out to the aforementioned writing group, who gifted me with their own collection of Joe-related stories, which may one day also grace the cobwebbed crannies of this website.
For now, please enjoy, Joe Chicago in Flight…
The handle on the entrance was a decorative wing.
“Welcome to Flight – a Heaven on Earth!” The well-rehearsed chorus rang out, as bright and blue as the vinyl sky-scape that wrapped around the oval antechamber, dazzling Chicago’s eyes, which were happily accustomed to the city-poisoned dim of the night outside.
Joe made a forceful point of not acknowledging the welcome-wagon of tuxedoed heavies and perfumed girls; instead shouldering through them and over to the unmanned reception desk of the syrup-sweet foyer. Eyes shooting up to clock a camera, he continued behind the lift-flap barrier, intent on going through the access door marked ‘Flight Personnel Only’.
Prob’bly tore it off an airport bathroom.
The crowd of employees jumped at Joe’s evident course; the girls gasping audibly, and the fellers tripping over to themselves and the desk to stop him. “Sir, you can’t go that way. Sir!”
“Yeah? Why not? What’s this way so special I can’t see, huh?” Joe made a grab for a handle, but his hand fell on nothing but door.
There was no handle. A digital keypad glowed tauntingly just to the side; a grid of bright glowing numbers.
The tallest heavy of the bunch reached the reception desk and landed a paw on Joe’s shoulder, intent on turning the detective around. He was successful in his endeavour inasmuch as Joe spun quick on his heels; unfortunately, this was to deliver an instinctual left-hook square to the lackey’s jaw, knocking him down.
“Anybody else?” Joe grunted to the room.
Joe stood over the fallen man, fist still balled. The startled employees seemed too frightened to move any closer; twitching in their hesitance to stay still or help their downed colleague.
“You’ve damaged enough china, thank you, Officer Chicago.” a familiar voice clipped from the personnel door. Joe turned back to see it wide open, the gaunt proprietor, Francis Nathair, displayed in its frame as though he’d been watching through it the whole time. Eyes everywhere. The room beyond the door was no clearer, however, as the lights seemed to be off, and none of the foyer’s light spilled into it.
“That’s ‘Inspector’ Chicago, Francis.” Joe insisted, unclenching his fist and correcting the front of his coat, “We need to talk.”
“Certainly, Inspector. One must always find time to listen to the wisdom of one’s elders, eh? Had I known you were coming, I’d have prepared a slightly more… accommodating reception.” he replied, swinging a well-tailored arm toward the body of employees that had hurriedly returned to their default positions, broken jaw and all. “As it turns out, I have just cleared my schedule, actually. You got me, Joe. I’m all ears. But! Prior to politics, pleasure…”
Francis slinked backwards into the private room, disappearing through the darkness. Joe gave the onlookers a final glance to make certain he wouldn’t be impeded again, then followed.
Within a second of passing the threshold, the foyer’s flooding luminescence was cut suddenly off as the electronic personnel door snapped shut behind him, leaving the room in absolute black. No sign of Francis. No light at all. Nothing. The lonely tickle of anxiety began to prick the deepest parts of Joe’s intestines.
Damn. Keep it together, old man. Now’s not the time.
The benefit of the pitch surroundings was that Joe couldn’t see how dizzy he was getting – no blurring lines, spinning lights or loud colours. Even without the visual cue, his tired knees wavered a moment, sending him staggering just one step forward.
“Not looking so hot, Joe.” carried Francis’ voice from nowhere, “Tell me, what brings you to my sector? To my home, no less.” Eyes everywhere.
“Ah… The Angel of Ann Arbor.” Joe winced at the moniker. “Sorry, Joe, she was a no-show last night. My Cherubim and Seraphim have seen neither head nor… tail… of her since.”
Without so much as a tell-tale thud, Joe felt a weight shift near the floor; something heavy slid from atop his boot, as though it had been resting there a while. He flinched his leg up suddenly, which almost sent him toppling. When his foot landed again, he stamped around inquisitively, but hit nothing.
“But why waste all this ink on yesterday’s news? Tootsy’s not drawn crowds for a long time now. Just… didn’t put her heart into her work any more, know what I mean, Joe?”
“That why you k-?” There it was again, now sliding wetly down off the back of his calf, though Joe had not noticed it land to begin with. His soles planted solid, he half-turned and slapped at his calves and the hem of his coat, but again found nothing. There was something there, for sure; something was toying with him.
“Oh no, no, Joe. Let us not start pointing fingers here. If accusations were bullets, I know who would be left standing after this wee tête-à-tête, oh yesssss. You’ve come here for answers, of course, but unfortunately you are going to have to settle with a little demonstration– a debut, if you like. My greatest plaything. Mon Céphalopode Mécanique. Insssssspector Chicago, it is my pleasure to introduce you to our newest thrill – the Almighty Hafgufa!”
Before a full syllable could leave his mouth, Joe felt his leg propel forward a few meters; the rest of his body followed as he flew horizontally into the darkness. His back hit the floor with a soft crack.
“-God fuckin’ damn!”
Joe reached out through the black to feel at his leg, make sure it was all still there.
Thank Chris’ – what the hell grabbed at you, old man? Least it’s too dark for anyone to-
With an echoing clunk, the lights came on. A pause of blinding brightness calmed itself to reveal the room in detail. The painful blow from the floor meeting the back of his head was good alternative for a slap to the face, and Joe’s discombobulation seemed momentarily gone.
The room wasn’t too wide but went on for a while. A corridor. The half dozen or so doors on either side, spaced generously apart, were well lit by the bare factory lights dangling above. Joe noted that the doors were all ajar, and one in particular was narrowing negligibly, suggesting that something recently passed through it. Francis’ absence was also noted.
“What in the heavens was that, eh, Joe?” the clipped voice was still present, however.
Joe took a few seconds to get off the floor and stand straight, palms to his lower back and pushing hard as he stretched to re-align whatever clicked out of place during the fall. A satisfying crunch later, and Joe turned around.
The door he’d just come through was the only one without a handle, and the only one closed tight, it seemed. Above it was a thin black bar.
The black bar continued, “Sorry for the theatrics, my good man. It seems my pretty little pet just wanted to play. But, oh dear, now she’s shy! Perhaps we should turn out the lights and see if she’ll grace us with-”
“No more bullshit, Francis. Open the door and meet me outside. I’m in no mood to play hide-and-go-fuck-yourself.”
There was no answer.
Another clunk reverberated through the brickwork as the lights went out. Without a second to waste, Joe pulled his glock and turned in the direction of the door that he saw moving a few moments earlier.
Aiming for the crack that he could only see in his mind’s eye, Joe spent three rounds. Breathing in the gun’s smoke and bracing his legs in anticipation of another grab, he waited. After a few counts, the lights clunked back on.
Joe was still standing, his eyes drawn to the victim of his blind target practice: a foot-long worm of brown and black, silently writhing in a velvet-blue puddle.
“What?!” Francis’ disembodied voice responded with a shriek, “What did you do?!”
Joe turned to the black bar.
“You bastard! Do you have any idea how much that-”
Francis’ voice petered out until the speaker went dead. Joe figured he’d gotten up from his monitors and was on the move. No eyes.
Joe leapt paces through the corridor towards the strange worm and grabbed it up.
Ain’t wriggling no more.
Holding it tight to his coat to make sure that none of the blue fluid dripped breadcrumbs, he made a final dash to one of the open doorways on the opposite side of the corridor. He entered, turned, and closed the gap enough to make it seem uniform with the rest.
Rapid footsteps approached as Francis audibly crashed in through one of the other myriad entrances; Joe couldn’t make out which one though, as the crack in his chosen hidey-hole only gave him view of the puddle where the worm had been.
Silence pulled itself taught over the corridor for a breathless half minute, until Joe clocked the minute sound of a pistol cocking. Francis must’ve known Joe’d hear it, as his thin voice then carried through the air in song.
“Oh, no, where are you Joe?”
A gentle creak, and the scuff of a heel turning.
“The clock is a-ticking, it’s soon time to go…”
Another creak, but nearer.
“Oh, no, here comes the tide-”
A creak from the next door over, and Francis’ shadow in view.
“-the water approaches, there’s nowhere to-”
Joe could hear his heartbeat.
“Limey limp-dick fuck!”
From his hiding place, Joe had waited until he could taste Francis’ cologne on his tongue, judging then that the lanky foe would be right up against the other side of the ajar door.
Joe’s sudden yell put Francis on an awkward footing so, as the burly detective’s weight struck the door, poor Francis on the other side did not stand a chance.
Francis fell back -an explosion of nasal blood decorating his face- and landed sprawling on the cold floor, his gun flying a good twelve feet further up the corridor, and skidding like a skater in the ice-capades. Joe ran in the direction of the gun, which was opposite to the way he’d come in. He’d kept pace with the sliding pistol and scooped it up with his free hand, just before it could come to a stop.
The old man didn’t try entering any of the other doors, lest he end up in a broom closet, or free-falling down a ventilation tube, or coming face-to-face with the owner of the metal worm he held tight to his left-hand breast. Instead, he ran toward the poorly-lit far end of the corridor, and right up to a-
Ah, shit. Dead end.
He turned to see that Francis had just stood back up, the blood from his smashed-up nose dribbling down his pristine white shirt. Joe grinned despite his predicament, then looked down at the measly firearm in his hand.
A kid’s gun. What a mook.
He dispatched the tiny clip from the newly-acquired weapon, removing all but the one bullet that was still cocked within the chamber. Then a few hairs on the back of his leathery neck bristled, sending a cool wave down his body. His first reaction was that his acute claustrophobia was returning, and maybe the meds were wearing off, but if that were true, how come he wasn’t feeling dizzy?
Without turning, he clonked the butt of the pistol against the wall behind him; the hollow tap confirmed his suspicion that dead-end ‘wall’ was little more than thin plaster or balsa wood, covering what was probably a window.
Probably’s the best chance you got, old man.
Francis was taking jagged, slow steps towards Joe, his right hand locked over the bulk of his crumpled face, and left hand pulling a second pistol out from a concealed holster at the small of his back. Joe pointed the puny gun in his hand at the staggering dummy.
“Stay where you are, asshole.”
Francis responded to this by raising his piece and firing. Joe ducked to the left, but really didn’t need to; the bullet flew wide, penetrating the thin wall behind and shattering the window beyond.
As Joe ducked, he instinctively pulled on the trigger. His aim true, the bullet planted itself direct in Francis’ face.
Francis staggered back and tilted his head sharply up from the impact, but remained standing. After a long stretch of silence, he lowered his head again to face Joe, his arms quaking, and huge globs of red seeping down onto the floor below him.
Oh, Francis… Y’ain’t pretty no more.
The single hole in the wall behind Joe shot a beam of light from the neon world outside, which perfectly illuminated and accentuated Francis’ head. The face had partially exploded where the small gun’s bullet hit the bone around the nasal cavity, then ricocheted down into the jaw. Joe noticed a few teeth accompanying the next glob of blood.
“What you get for carrying a child’s gun, Francis,” Joe mused with a hint of told-you-so about him, “a better caliber weapon would’ve gone right through you, ya know.”
Francis screamed, the blossoming flower of his facial cavity spewing blood forward like confetti at a thanksgiving parade. He lifted his remaining gun and emptied the clip in a quick succession of shots that flew in all directions, due to his blood-blinded inability to aim.
Joe pushed himself flat against the corridor’s side, safely out of the path of the shots, and watched the false end-wall as it was riddled with the bullets. He then turned a few times between the dot-to-dot pattern of light spilling in through the back wall and then to Francis, who was fumbling forward, still screaming an inexhaustive wail of anger and pain.
Joe chucked the empty pistol at his encroaching foe, causing him to stumble and stop shooting momentarily, providing a brief window of time for Joe to reel back and hurtle his whole weight at the weakened wall.
It popped outwards with unanticipated ease, like a piece in an old airfix kit. Fortunately, the number of shots to the window layer behind the wall had completely decimated the glass, so Joe was free of any rogue shards. Unfortunately, as Joe Chicago was soon to be reminded, Flight, the aptly-named nightclub from which he had just escaped, was at penthouse-level.
With eight stories below him, Joe heard Francis’ gurgling scream two stories above, “CHICAGOOOOooooo-”
A siren wailed in the distance, maybe two blocks away. A solitary cat watched from a fire-escape across the alley. The air stank of acid and dust.
Tootsy, I’m sorry. See you soon-
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