My NaNoWriMo 2014 submission to the ‘Joe Chicago’ project that a few bookselling friends of mine we involved in. Introducing Joe Chicago – retired PI in 2089 Detroit, in Joe Chicago and the Case of the Fallen Angel
The place was white, cold, and clinical. It was a striking difference to the streets outside, thick-brown air, heavy with smoke and smog. Only a lock-up this deep in the station, this far from the grimy outside world could be so spotless and orderly. Hospitals weren’t even this damn sterile. Not even the Commissioner’s office directly above them was this clean, then again the Commissioner was a heavy cigar smoker. The corner of Joe’s mouth winced briefly at the thought of the big man coughing and wheezing one floor up, with lungs of mustard and dust. It was never pleasant being on the receiving end of a shouting match with the guy; a situation with which Joe was quite familiar.
The rookie Officer, Baker, was one stride ahead of Joe as they marched down the corridor. It was an unspoken courtesy that lead a junior Officer to escourt Joe around the precinct every time he came by. Joe’s condition wasn’t helped by the labyrinthine layout of the dilapidated turn-of-the-century building, and he needed help navigating any direction beyond the foyer, not that he’d ever ask for it – but these men knew him long enough to follow the drill. There were some days, some cases, some years ago, when he rubbed this cop the wrong way, or accused the wrong guy’s cousin, and nobody in the joint appreciated a visit from the old P.I. But that was bound to happen; good as they were at defending this fine city, they were dirty cops. Who wasn’t these days? Hopefully not Officer Baker.
The corridor stopped at a fine mesh gate, made of some wonder-fabric that could stop a bullet, and probably had in its time. There was the usual cornea-scan on the wall beside. Baker thrust his socket at the mechanism and one digit lit green on the heads-up display. Joe’s digit was red; he sighed and vaguely positioned his face before the scanner. It didn’t recognise him. He leaned into the mechanism, a finger from either hand holding open his sleepless, pink eye. He regretted the bottle of vodka he’d had last night; it didn’t sit well with the bottle he’d drunk in the car on the way over. After straining to keep his watering eye open any longer, his digit blinked green and the gate opened.
“What the hell was wrong with good ol’ thumbprint scanners, I ask you?” muttered Joe. Baker made no reply as he opened the door for the old man. He probably hadn’t even been a wink in his father’s eye when they phased out the thumbprint scanners. “One too many guys had one too many severed hands turn up next to freshly looted lock-ups, apparently. The bad guys had yet to decapitate a guy to get his eye-print, so they got rid of the old and brung in the new. History lesson for the day, kid.” Thumbprints Joe could deal with – even as his hands got older and his knuckles stuck out better, his thumbprints stayed the same. He wished he could say the same about his eyes – nothing aged half as bad as his drunken old headlights. He rubbed them out of habit, perfectly aware that there was no smog in this pristine and ventilated hole.
“What’s the matter, Chicago? You lose your fluffy pink handcuffs again?” Officer Daniels was at the desk again. Good. Joe had gambled on that; Daniels volunteered for evidence duty more than any other cop in the station recently.
Daniels coughed up a sharp series of cackles before his face returned to his trademark scowl. The Officer at the desk was well-built, athletic, and lightly scarred from a preference to tackle first, ID the per later, grazes showed on his large hands, thick arms and tall forehead.
“Put on your hat, Daniels.” Joe suggested when he saw the cop’s cap on the desk, a half-eaten bagel nesting inside. Honestly, no respect for the uniform.
“Eat shit, Chicago” came the response. Daniels ripped a document from Baker’s hands and gave it a quick once-over. “What the fuck is this, Chicago? The Stanton case? That case closed tighter than a choir boy,” another short cackle, “Why the hell would you be digging up this shit?”
“I have reason to believe that some key evidence is missing from your collection back there. The car-”
“The car’s in impound, Chicago – wouldn’t fucken fit in here anyways.”
“Just take me to the box, Daniels.”
“My liege…” Daniels pushed himself away from his desk and lifted his heavy frame to his feet. He was always taller than Joe was expecting. “You might want to resist the urge to hold my hand you freakin’ shadow. This way.”
He led Joe and Officer Baker along the aisles of shelves overflowing with dated and coded boxes. Cleanliness may be next to godliness in here, but damn was the place untidy. Daniels stopped at a perfectly indistinguishable box halfway along the fourth aisle and pulled it out, dropping it half-assed on a nearby stool. The contents of the box were each sealed in a plastic wrap and uniquely coded. Ah, the Stanton case.
Mr Stanton was your grade-A asshole. Countless hit-and-runs all across the outer Detroit area, and a senior position in the DMV that afforded him the ability to refresh his plate – coincidentally – a week before each incident. The bastard would have kept getting away with it too, if a certain P.I. hired by a grieving parent hadn’t stumbled across a cache of dented number plates in a warehouse not far from the first few crimescenes. Trophies. You should never bring your work home with you.
The cops had no difficulty at all working out where the plates came from, and who signed off on them. The guy even confessed, with no loose ends to figure out. The car itself was still in impound, as such tools of infamous serial killers were always bound to fetch a good amount at auction some years down the line. Make for a nice gold watch when the next senior cop retires. They kept the stack of dented, crimson-crusted plates in the trunk of the car to help boost the value of the lot, so there was little else in the evidence box besides the car’s user keycard, Mr Stanton’s credentials at the DMV, photographs of the crime scenes, and a mugshot or two. Joe picked up the bag containing the keycard.
“What do you drive, Baker?” Joe asked.
“Me, sir? No, I don’t drive.” The young Officer stuttered.
“The cost of gas today, I’m not surprised. Cheaper to piggy-back on a hooker seven days a week.” Joe didn’t appreciate the vulgarity himself, but he knew it flew well with the boys at the precinct. “How about you, Daniels?”
“Yeah, a 2025 Buick. Vintage. Gets me more tail than a hickory dickory dock.” Daniels replied.
“Keys or card?”
“Keys. I told you – it’s vintage, why?”
“And where do you keep your keys?”
“Up your mother’s snatch, Chicago, what the fuck is your point?”
Joe took a moment before carrying on, half to build anticipation, half to annoy Officer Daniels. “I’m gonna assume you have a set either in your pocket or in your locker. Most probably your pocket, ’cause you’re so damn attached to the thing. But where do you keep your spare?”
Daniels’ laugh this time was uncomfortable. “Yeah, like I’d tell you.”
Joe rolled his shoulders and rubbed his hands together. “Geez, ain’t you fellers feeling that A/C? Cold down here.” He gave a little shake, something jingled in his pocket. “My, oh my, what’s this? I don’t carry change…” Reaching into is coat’s inner pocket, he produced a set of keys with a Buick fob attached.
“You piece a’ shit, Joe,” growled Daniels, snatching the keys, “you better not’ve broke nothin’ gettin these.” He turned to go. Joe reached out and held his shoulder a second, stopping the man in his tracks. When he turned to look back at Joe, his face was all anger; Joe was half expecting a sock to the jaw, but it didn’t come, luckily.
“I merely wanted to suggest that if someone as smart and turned-on as you could leave their spare keys in the car’s vanity mirror, so could a two-bit shit like our good Mr Stanton. And a keycard is a whole lot easier to hide too. Also, well, if a total dunce like me could break into your ride, who’s to say some psychopath-obsessed wingnut isn’t gonna get into the impound and jump into our friend’s little death-mobile?”
Daniels took half a second too long to process that, “Like they wouldn’t have checked already-”
“And they very well could have, but look – only one keycard in the box, and who wouldn’t have a spare hidden somewhere?”
Another few moments of the cop’s eyes darting between Baker and Chicago passed before he spun away, yelling “If you so much as scratched my car, I’m taking your other nut, so help me!” And was gone, beyond the gate and out through the clear white corridor.
Joe turned to Officer Baker, “We have two minutes.”
“W-What?” Was all Baker managed.
“I need you to take me to this box,” Joe handed the Officer a scrap of paper with a code on, “quickly.”
He stood for a moment, squinting at the code hand-scrawled on the corner of a corner of old newspaper. “Sir, do you have the clearance for this?”
“I didn’t exactly have the ‘clearance’ to break into Dumbo’s Buick, but look at that. Kid, I either need you to take me to this box, or to bring this box to me.”
“Shit, Baker, I’d hoped you were clean, but not this clean! Ignore the protocol, kid; sometimes you gonna break the law to uphold it. Now, come on!”
Baker seemed to understand, and gave a nod to convey as much. “The box’ll be this way, sir.”
The two of them hurried through the corridors of boxes, Officer Baker flicking his eyes and one finger from one label to another, navigating through the numbers to get to the correct evidence code. Joe stuck to his heels, ignoring the boxes completely.
“Sir, can I ask why we’re doing this?”
Sir. That’s a good one. I like this guy.
“Our friendly Officer Daniels has been spending an awful lot of time down here. I figure he either wants to keep his eye on something coming in, or on who’s looking at what. I don’t really give two shits about the Stanton case, as you’d may have suspected, but giving that prick more’n one thing to do as a distraction more than triples our time. That guy couldn’t find a handjob in a whorehouse, who really knows how long he’ll spend looking for a keycard that ain’t even there.”
“So why the trick with his car keys, sir?”
“That shmuck probably woulda told us to go get the keycard ourselves. He needed a little persuasion.”
“We’re here, sir.” Joe pulled out the box that Baker was standing over. It was a very recent addition to the lock-up, Joe figured he may even be the first guy to look inside since it found its way down here a few days before. Funny how key evidence of an active case would be swept under the rug like this.
The first things he pulled out were the photographs, to make sure it was the right box. The first few were shots of a lamp-lit alleyway, could have been anywhere in the city, really. Gang tags sprayed on brickwork, remnants of activist posters from a time when the people gave a damn, discarded garbage and a rusted-out trashcan or two. The sections unlit by the orange bulbs were littered with neon signs in different languages and colours. Joe spent so much time down places like this, he pictured himself walking through the snapshots. Until he came to the one he was looking for, and brought himself back into the room. The open, blanched eyes of Tootsy; she was one of Mamma Moxie’s girls. The poor dame.
The pictures showed Tootsy lying gracefully in a small puddle of her own blood, which pooled almost perfectly around her head, like a deep maroon halo on the granite floor. Joe realised he was spending too long mourning over the shots, so he jammed them back into the box without a second glance. She can’t be helped now. Sure, a dead prostitute’s case would be overlooked and forgotten now and then, but this one? With the murder only two blocks from the station, the boys in blue would usually be all over this, looking for the scum kicking up trouble on their territory. But nobody had so much as thought about these shots since they were first put away. It just didn’t sit right.
“What’re you looking for?” Asked Baker, his head over his shoulder, keeping lookout.
“This.” Joe lifted a gun from the box. It was sealed in a plastic bag, like everything else. It was found near the scene. Police issue, it looked, but there was no serial number, and ID chip had been removed. The piece was found in a dumpster at the far end of the alley; if the autopsy reports were in this box too, Joe knew ballistics would match, though he didn’t have time to check.
A cop’s weapon was paired to a biometric chip that meant it would only function when held by its owner. Even if someone had the know-how to acquire a gun without a serial number, they’d not be able to fire the thing without a valid ID chip. The wave of microchipped guns brought in by the government was meant to curb the incredible national crime rate, but after its introduction a few years back, it led to a boom in the black market for illegal pre-war weaponry, and the underworld moguls grew fatter whilst the streets remained a deadly place to stroll.
Joe bent down and pulled something very small from the fold in his sock, and with practised precision slotted into a tiny slot on the handgun. “One of the tools of my trade, Baker. This resonating chip will lock the gun into tracking mode as soon as the original owner makes contact with it again; even though our killer removed the ID chip, it left a thumbprint inside the gun that my little friend will pick up.”
“But why would you want to put it into tracking mode, sir? Whoever fired that gun is hardly going to come down here to get it back.”
“The actual tracking is incidental – all I’m looking for is when the tracking mode turns itself on. When it does, my receiver will alert me, and whoever’s holding the gun at the time will be-”
“CHICAGO!” Came Daniels’ voice from up the corridor, approaching fast.
“Kid, I just need you to do one more thing for me,” whispered Joe to the rookie officer, “stall our cro-magnon friend over there. A-sap, Baker, a-sap!”
“-And stop calling me ‘sir’. It’s ‘Joe’. Now scat!”
Baker ran quietly towards the calls of “Chicago!” and “You old shit!” Joe took another small device from the inside of his other sock, gave it two clicks and a twist, and smiled when the top of it lit red. He inserted the small red light into his wristwatch, carefully dropped the gun into his coat, and packed up the evidence box back onto the shelf. He looked the direction he had come from with Baker; the corridor seemed to bend and twist, despite the shelves being perfectly and measurably straight. Alone, indoors, deep within the station, his dis-orientation kicked in.
Okay. Follow the voices.
The two Officers were talking heatedly, but Joe could not ascertain the words they were saying. He tried heading straight, but hit a junction. He peeked around the corner to the right and gambled on that direction. He didn’t get far before he came to a dead end.
He spun on his heels, took a breath, closed his eyes and stuck out his right hand until he touched shelving.
It’s just another alleyway, Joe. You’ve done this a million times.
He walked silently, the hem of his coat occasionally making a soundless scuff with a box or two on the lower shelf. He came to a corner and followed it around, still not opening his eyes. In his mind he was touching brick, it was damp to the touch, but unmistakably rough. He imagined his hand jumping to another brick each time he swept by an evidence box. The alley was dimly orange, and confusingly twisted, but when he craned his neck up, he saw the familiar dull pallette of the night sky. No stars, never any stars. Then he stopped.
Why can’t I hear them any more?
He realised that he was breathing heavily. He sucked in and held his air for a wait, straining to hear anything at all.
Nothing done if you just stay here all day, Joe.
He realised that he had let go of the shelf a few heartbeats ago. Keeping his eyes closed, he reached up and touched his familiar brickwork again. This time he moved faster. He took three more turns and a particularly long stretch of alleyway, all the while holding his breath to keep an ear out for signs of the two police officers. He was anticipating another corner that never came when he almost went flying. His foot dug into a soft, heavy mass on the floor.
That ain’t no box, Joe.
He looked down on the floor of the alley. The sad, angelic body of Tootsy lay before him, slightly disturbed from the accidental kick of his boot. Her bloody halo had soaked her shoulders, and had started to bleed into the powder-white wings protruding from her shoulders.
Wings? No. Open your eyes, Joe.
When he brought himself to, he was gazing into the unconscious face of Officer Baker. Joe knelt down a little too fast for his old knees, which kicked a jolt of pain up his body. Joe touched two fingers to Baker’s throat and got a pulse.
He’s alive, good.
“Very good Joe, now hand it over.” Daniels crept out from behind the shelf. He must have been waiting to pounce on Joe at the next corner, but had grown impatient. “You have to wake up pretty sharp to fool me, fucker.”
“Early, dumbass, it’s early.” Corrected Joe as he struggled back to his feet.
A few meters behind Daniels, the electronic mesh gate flung open and a steady stream of boys in blue filed in. Daniels’ face contorted into a great, toothy grimace as he looked around at the armed men gathering around him. Joe was impressed by the amount of bodies that could fit into the narrow corridor; the bagel in Daniels’ hat slid to the floor after the desk was surrounded with six or seven men.
“Boys, thank you for joining us. I’m sorry to take this time out of your busy schedule, but your coffee won’t get too cold before youre back upstairs.” Joe addressed the group. Three men shuffled past Daniels andd surrounded Baker, who was still fast asleep on the gleaming white floor. They lifted him between two of them and carried the man through the crowd and away upstairs.
Joe turned back to Daniels, whose face had returned to his trademark scowl. Joe had to double-take. Was Daniels scowling, or was that a smile…?
“Well done, Chicago – all the boys came to your birthday party.” Daniels executed a slow turn on the spot, to make sure the men all heard him, “I hope you brought enough balloons fer everybody. Aw shucks, and here I am without a gift. How rude of me.” A few of the cops chuckled at that, to which Daniels added a cackle. “So what’s next, dick? Pin the tail on the jackass? Spin the bottle?”
“How about pin the murder on the dirty cop? Spin this, cupcake.” Joe pulled the gun out his pocket and chucked it over to Daniels. The dozy officer stumbled with the firearm before truly grabbing hold of it. By this time, every man in the room had pointed their sights on Joe. Never pull out a piece in a police station. A few of them confusedly kept switching their aim between Joe and Daniels, trying to decide for themselves what was going on. Joe grabbed his wrist and looked down at his watch.
Still red? What the…
“What’s this, a present for me? Joe, ya shouldn’t have. Actually, I brought my own,” he checked the magazine and chamber, saw that both were empty, and chucked the weapon to Joe’s feet, “Oh, goodness, fellas! What’s this? The infamous Joe Chicago just pulled a gun on me in front of all these witnesses?” He placed his hand over his holster. Not one of the men behind him made any sort of move to stop him.
Joe looked down at the useless weapon at his feet. He hoped that his false interest would be distraction enough, as his left hand moved invisibly to touch the gun strapped to the back of his belt. His eyes flashed up to look at the dense cluster of armed men in front of him; they had mostly lowered their weapons now, in two minds about where their loyalties lay – in justice and defending the innocent, or in this cackling sack of shit in their midst.
He clutched the piece at his back, and heard the click as it came away from the holster.
“What the holy Moses is going on down here?!” Came a deep, gravel voice from behind the wall of blue, followed by a wheezing cough that accompanied the Commissioner as he barged his way through the crowd. “Daniels! What are all these officers doing in the evidence lock-up, and why on earth ain’t there a soul upstairs?”
Commissioner Aarons became fully visible. Sugar crumbed on his braces, and behind a short, smokey beard shone bulbous red cheeks. He was a large man, and Joe had remarked before that were he not a cop, he would make a terrifying Santa Claus down the Ten Oaks Mall.
“Joe?” Aarons stood with his eyes wide and jaw agape for just a moment, then buried his fingers into his temples in an attempt to calm himself, “What’s your beef this time, Joe?”
“Commissioner, I have reason to suspect one of your officers of committing a murder.” Joe explained.
A few breaths passed as Aarons walked towards the old detective, “Joey, Joey, we’ve been through this before. Sometimes people get caught up in the crossfire, and collateral damage is an unavoidable result. My men, these are good men, every one. Well, except for when their distracted from their paperwork – Everybody! Upstairs, now! We got crimes to solve, and reports to file, move, move, move!” The cops holstered their weapons and returned up the corridor, “You too Daniels – go get some air and hit the beat for a while, you’ve been down here so long, can’t think straight.”
Daniels didn’t say a word as he gave Joe one final look up and down, his mouth too busily bent crooked in his half-moon scowl. Then he turned, whipped his hat off the desk, kicked what remained of his bagel against the wall, and marched off.
“Joe, I don’t know which of your little drug-peddling informants or pocket-diving street rats got caught up this time, and I have no idea what games you and the boys were playing down here, but it’s got to stop. You disrupt the course of justice again and I might have to revoke your visiting privileges.” He spoke in the manner of a friend, supposedly to calm Joe down. It made him easy.
“But Commissioner, my every gut-feeling and a couple of clues point right to this-”
“That doesn’t give you permission to start accusing my boys behind my-”
“And what about Baker? Daniels must’ve knocked him clean out!”
“That’s enough! That’s enough, Joe. Stop it.” The Commissioner glanced the handgun at Joe’s feet, swept it up and forced it into Joe’s chest. “Compose yourself, Chicago. Get your shit together, go home, have a bite to eat, and come see me in the morning, so we can talk about this, like men.”
There was a pause as Joe tried to settle the cocktail of thoughts in his head. “Alright, Aarons. In the morning, but you’d best be ready for me. Your boys’ve been bending the law for long enough, and this time I want- …this time… somebody needs to answer for this.”
Aarons had put his arm over Joe’s shoulder, turned him around and led him to the security gate, “Sometimes you gotta break the law to uphold it. We might not be angels, Joe, but we’re all this City’s really got to keep ’em safe.” The man wheezed in a conclusive manner, “You go home, Joe- where was it? That nice place over on Grand River Avenue? You still there? You go back home, put your head and your case together, and I’ll see you tomorrow. 8am sharp. Promise.”
Joe was not going to get the answers he wanted tonight, so he circled his shoulders around, let them drop, and gave a low sigh. He turned to see that that Commissioner had closed the mesh gate between him and Joe.
“I’m just gonna clear this place up for a while – let somebody upstairs know I’m down here on your way out. Good night, Joe.” The man gave a cough, waved in Joe’s direction, side-stepped the bagel and its contents on the floor and disappeared into the aisles.
What a waste of a day. Well, better look over the files once more. If I have time, I could still drive over to-
Joe looked at his watch. The light on its side was blinking green.