After a few minutes of silence it was Aiela who finally spoke, asking, “What happens now?”
I shook my head and quietly responded, “I’m not sure. I was positive that questioning Dr. Johann would give me new information. New leads to follow. But it didn’t.”
Professor Rafkin shook his head and replied, “Now that’s not entirely true at all.” I looked at him questioningly and he continued, “While you may not have turned up any new leads, he certainly gave you a great deal of new information.”
“True.” I replied, going over everything Dr. Johann had said about the Moonstone, the expedition, Susan, and my father. “But none of it gets me any closer to finding out where the Moonstone is now.”
“So,” Aiela asked again, “What happens now?”
I blew out a breath and replied, “I’ll have to go over the full police report about the delivery truck, and possibly examine the crime scene. Though at this point, I doubt there will be anything to find there. Maybe if I give Frank a call he’ll bring the case file down to my office so that I can avoid Rider and the station.”
“Yes.” Professor Rafkin suddenly said sarcastically. “Chief Rider is obviously the biggest of your concerns now.” He gave me an angry glare through his glasses.
“What?” I asked, confused.
“You’ve still got those bloody marks on your neck.” He reminded me. “Or were you just planning on working the case until you suddenly pitched over dead from a bullet?”
I shrugged and replied, “I’ll deal with that when the time comes.”
“You’ll get out of this city as soon as you bloody well can!” He told me, pointing one of his large fingers at me with each syllable.
“I can’t!” I protested. “I have to solve this one, and no one who’s run away has ever been safe. They always get caught.”
“You won’t know if you don’t try!” He exclaimed. “What’s so bloody important about this case that it’s worth your life?”
“Because it’s about my father!” I shouted back. His eyes widened in shock and he sat down heavily onto the couch. I hadn’t even noticed when he’d stood up. “A woman who was apparently my adopted sister was murdered today, and her daughter is lying in a hospital bed. The one object my father died to find is lost somewhere here in the city, and the Crimson Mako gang never fails to find their targets! I have to solve this case, I have to. Before tomorrow afternoon. I need to know why this stone is so valuable!” I flopped back down onto the couch and rested my face in my hands, mildly ashamed of my outburst. I hadn’t noticed when I had stood up either.
I felt Aiela put her arm around my shoulders as she quietly asked, “How can we help, Jake?”
“What?” I asked stupidly.
“You’re right.” She told me, giving the Professor a pointed glance. “You need to know about it. We understand that. So what can we do to help?”
I stared at her in surprise, but couldn’t come up with an answer. Professor Rafkin gruffly cleared his throat and said, “Why don’t you sleep on it? If your next step is to get the police report, you’ll need to wait till morning anyway. Your room is still here, after all. Then tomorrow, you and Aiela can head into town. Maybe she will see something you don’t.”
I wasn’t fooled at all by the offer. While she looked like a fragile young woman, Aiela’s mechanical body was ten times stronger than I was. While it was true that she might be able to pick up a detail that my mundane eyes would miss, that wasn’t what Professor Rafkin was offering. He was offering me a bodyguard. I shook my head lightly and answered, “I’ll take you up on the bed, but I don’t need Aiela to come with me.”
I felt her stiffen at my side as she asked, “You don’t want me to come with you?” Her voice sounded hurt.
“It isn’t that!” I backtracked quickly. “It’s just that, well, if I don’t get everything done in time… you know, before the afternoon, I’d never be able to live with myself if something happened to you.”
“I’m not afraid of bullets.” She told me stiffly. “It isn’t as if I can feel physical pain. And Professor Rafkin can fix any damage I take.”
“Not if they shoot you in the head.” I replied, giving Professor Rafkin a helpless glance. “Your brain would be shattered.”
“The Professor can make me a new brain.” She answered stiffly, taking her arm back from around my shoulders.
“But the new brain wouldn’t be you.” Professor Rafkin agreed with me with a sigh. “All the memories and emotions you’ve ever had would be gone in an instant. Your body would be the same, but your personality? It would be gone.”
She stood up, growling in frustration. “So there’s nothing I can do?” She demanded.
I took her hand lightly and said, “You can keep me in your thoughts. And who knows? Maybe I’ll get through tomorrow just fine after all.”
The look she gave me would have been filled with tears had she been capable of crying. She pulled me to my feet and hugged me closely, letting out a sound like a sob. Before I could mention the cracking I felt in my rib cage, she let me go and dashed out of the room.
“Ow.” I complained lightly, rubbing my chest.
“I’m afraid she doesn’t know her own strength.” Professor Rafkin explained, looking at the door. He stood up with a tired sounding sigh and said, “But it’s getting late. We should be to bed. I fear that tomorrow will be a big day, no matter what happens.” He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed lightly before heading out the study door as well.
I finished what was left of my drink in a single pull, relishing the burn on my throat, and left the room, following the familiar hallways until I arrived at my old bedroom door. Once inside, I found the room exactly as I had left it nearly seven years ago. A twin sized bed sat on one wall, an old comforter neatly tucked into it. A small desk sat against the room’s one window, where I had done all my homework growing up. An old clock still ticked away on top of the desk.
The last piece of furniture was an old dresser that sat on the wall opposite my old bed. It was squat and wide, leaving plenty of space on top for the four picture frames. One frame held my high school diploma, while a second had my first private investigator’s license. I’d thrown away my diploma from the police academy after my falling out with Chief Rider. In the third frame was a picture of myself at eighteen, dressed in my graduation robes. Professor Rafkin was proudly shaking my hand, while my other arm was wrapped around a humanoid robot, the diploma tightly held in my fist. The robot was Aiela, of course, before the Professor had discovered that her personality was female, and given her skin.
It was the fourth photo, however, that drew my eye this night. There were three figures in it, with a large garden in the background. Professor Rafkin’s, of course. One of the figures was myself at the age of nine, with seven year old Jimmy right beside me. With a hand on either of our outside shoulders was my father. All three of us were smiling brightly. A happy little family in the yard of a good friend.
I felt tears in my eyes as I replaced the photo on the dresser. I pulled the envelope back out of my jacket and set the contents on the dresser as well, propping up the photo of the expedition next to the one of my family. Maybe after I was gone the Professor would be able to prove June’s relation to Jimmy. He’d probably make a good substitute father, if Professor Rafkin didn’t take her in himself.
I shut off the light and got undressed, climbing readily into my old, small, bed. The night was almost completely silent, and my thoughts continued to race behind my closed eyelids, making sleep impossible.
I tossed and turned for hours, until the ticking of the clock, once a sound I would fall asleep to in an instant, began to drive me insane. Finally, I gave up. I sat up quietly and got dressed. ‘To hell with Rider’s curfew.’ I thought bitterly. ‘I’ve got a case to solve.’
I moved silently through the dark hallways, and was lucky in that I encountered no one as I left the house. I moved quickly down the driveway, watching behind me often to make sure Aiela, who didn’t actually need to sleep, had not caught me leaving and decided to follow.
No dark shadows followed me this night, however, and before long I was out on the streets themselves. Now that I had gotten there though, I had no idea where to go. I had a good idea where the site of the hijacking was, but I hadn’t been kidding when I said there probably wasn’t anything to see there. That left the police report. ‘What the hell.’ I shrugged. ‘If I’m likely to die soon anyway, what’s a little thing like visiting the police station after curfew?’
I took the back streets across town, keeping to the shadows as much as possible. I only saw one police patrol looking for people out past curfew, but they didn’t see me. Probably because the two of them were too busy talking to a couple of young prostitutes who were wearing practically nothing on the warm summer night. Under any other circumstances I’d have marched over there and demanded the officer’s badge numbers so that I could report them. Tonight, however, I was glad to take any breaks that were sent my way.
The police station sat near the center of town in a brightly lit cobblestone courtyard, making it impossible for any inmate who tried to escape from the attached jail to avoid being seen, even at night. It also, unfortunately, made it impossible to simply sneak in as well. I considered trying to go in through the garage. The door there led almost straight to the locker rooms. But it required a key from the outside, and I didn’t have one anymore. Instead, I stood up straight and walked purposefully towards the front doors, my stride striking confidently on the cobblestones. I made it to the entryway without being challenged, and went inside.
The public portion of the police station consisted of a plain stone room with uncomfortable wooden pews that had been salvaged from an old church. The pews had been adapted with metal rings set at the feet, and under the arm rests, so that criminals could be handcuffed in place while the officers filled out their reports. A window made of bulletproof glass protected the officers in the room beyond from irate criminals and their families. A wanted poster board dominated the left hand wall, while a simple metal door with a handle, but no knob. Sat next it. On the right hand wall there was another metal door, nearly the mirror of the one across the room.
A stroke of pure luck revealed that the night watchman behind the window was not only an old friend, but my old partner to boot. His eyes widened comically as I entered the building, and his mouth dropped open, forcing the mustache on his upper lip to droop. “Malone?” He hissed quietly through the holes in the window as I approached. “What are you doing here? And after curfew!”
“Wilson.” I nodded, noting that he had gained a few pounds since I’d last seen him. “Is it that late already? No wonder it’s so dark out.”
“Rider is going to kill you if he finds you here.” Sean Wilson exclaimed, still checking to make sure no one else was around.
“He can get in line like everyone else.” I told my old partner grimly, squatting down and turning around to show Wilson the marks on my neck.
“Good Lord!” He yelled, jumping to his feet so quickly that his chair fell over with a loud clatter. “We’ve got to get you out of the city!”
“Why does everyone keep saying that?” I muttered darkly. “It’s not like that’s ever done anyone any good.”
Wilson slumped, confused. “You aren’t here for protection?” He asked.
I snorted. “Sure. I’ll just leave my complete safety up to Chief Rider. I’m sure nothing could go wrong with that.”
“Then why are you here?” Wilson asked cautiously as he righted his chair.
“I need a big favor from you, actually.” I replied, giving him a small smile. “Consider it a last request of a dying man.”
“Anything you need!” He replied instantly. A beat later, before I could respond, he put one hand over his face in resignation. “Oh man. I really shouldn’t have said that.”
“Relax.” I assured him, laughing. “I’m not here to make you look bad. All I need you to do is forget I was ever here,” He looked up in hopeful surprise, “After,” I continued, dashing his hopes, “You let me in there.” I finished, nodding towards the metal door on the right.
Wilson squinted at me and asked, “You want me to let you, unguarded and unsupervised, into the heart of the police station, where you can mess with God knows what, and cause who knows how much damage, and then conveniently forget that I ever saw you?”
I tilted my head to the side as if in thought, then shrugged and said, “Yep. That sounds about right.”
“Okay.” Wilson agreed simply, with a small shrug. “Luck, Jake.”
“You too.” I told him, smiling.
“Who said that?” He demanded, looking past me. “If anyone is out there you’d better show yourselves.”
I walked to the door smiling. It was too bad our schedules didn’t allow us to meet very often. I missed Wilson.
The door buzzed as I approached, and I heard the lock disengage. I quickly pulled the heavy door open just enough to slip through, and the lobby was lost from sight as the door shut behind me. I made my way quickly through the bright, familiar hallways. Just because Wilson had let me in without a problem didn’t mean that anyone else who I happened to run into would do the same.
I passed the large detective’s office on my way to the records room. The small cubicles, each with an aisleway between them that led to Chief Rider’s office, were evenly spaced. Each one contained, I knew, an identical desk with a file cabinet, a clock, and a typewriter. I was sorely tempted to break into Rider’s office, just to mess with him, but decided against it. All it would accomplish would be a childish sense of joy that would end up getting Wilson in a lot of trouble.
Instead, I continued on to the end of the hallway and opened the door to the records room. Originally, each detective kept their own files stored in their desks. But people had grown tired of tracking down each detective who was working on a case, just to find a particular case file. So instead the station had switched to a method of keeping the hard copies of any particular case, whether solved, ongoing, or unsolved, in a single room.
I tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle a groan as I closed the door to the records room behind me. While the theory of keeping all the documents in one place was all well and good, the reality was that there was simply too much crime in a city this big to hold all the paperwork in a room this small. The room, twenty feet across and thirty or so deep, was packed from floor to rafters with boxes of paper on three large shelves that ran almost the entire length of the room. A small, five-foot deep, area in front of the door, was kept open along the entire front wall. Desks were set along the wall, however, diminishing even that little space.
At the end of each bookshelf sat a small, short, table, only large enough to hold a single box, which each table did. It was with great relief that I discovered almost immediately how the boxes were sorted. I had left the force before the records room had been implemented, but some of my old friends had told me about it. Back when they had still talked to me regularly.
The boxes were sorted by month, each box, and sometimes two or more, representing each month of each year. The boxes on the three tables in front of the bookshelves were this month’s entries. The box on the far right was empty, waiting for unsolved case files to be placed there at the end of the month. Which just left me two boxes to dig through.
I searched the middle box first. Three times. I had assumed, correctly, that the middle box would be filled with this month’s currently ‘in progress’ files. In theory, every detective was to return the files at the end of the day. But there was nothing in the box that even came close to a hijacking. Confused, I moved on to the box on the left. The solved cases.
I found the case file for the hijacking rather quickly, signed off by none other than John Rider himself. Taking the file to one of the tables behind me, I scanned through it, taking down notes as I read.
According to the report, the passengers in the delivery van, not truck as reported in Miss Crow’s report, included the entire team of archaeologists who had discovered the Moonstone. According to their notes, they had refused to leave the find unattended. The five members of the team, as well as the delivery driver, had all been shot multiple times. The crime scene photos showed that the wounds, while messy, were not professional. They looked more like the injuries a confused teen would inflict, instead of the quick and painless wounds left by a hired hitter. There were sloppy, even crude, gang signs for the Crimson Makos drawn on the inside of the van in, what appeared to be, blood. As much as I hated the gang, even I could tell that the markings weren’t made by them.
Yet Rider apparently didn’t have the same qualms about fingering an innocent party. Or as innocent as the Makos could be, anyway. I shut the file harder than necessary, and put it back in the box. ‘Damn it!’ I thought. ‘The file was supposed to clear things up, not give me more questions!’ Now I had no leads as to where the Moonstone might be, except for Lenny the Liar’s claim that some gang called the Natives had it, after knocking over the delivery van. But that didn’t track either. From what I’ve seen, the Natives are all about knives and butchering, but the van had been hit by people with guns. So had Lenny lied to me after all, or was his own information mistaken?
I sat there thinking for longer than I meant to. When the intercom suddenly blared to life in the silent station, I nearly jumped out of my skin. “Chief Rider!” I heard Wilson say on the intercom. “What brings you in so late? Or is it early?” The question was suddenly followed by a startled oath, after which Wilson suddenly said, “Oops. Stupid intercom button.” The intercom turned off with a click.
I was out of the records room and down the hall long before Chief Rider could get into the interior of the station. Without a look behind me I ducked into the men’s locker room. Without knowing why Rider was at the station at this time of night, I had no idea where to go to avoid him. And I absolutely had to avoid him. So I needed to leave the building, or I wouldn’t end up being the first prison inmate to be inexplicably shot down inside a prison cell.
An open locker revealed a jacket and cap for a beat cop who had been too anxious to get home to make sure that his locker was, in fact, locked. I shrugged out of my jacket, and wrapped my fedora up in it, before putting on the officer’s jacket and cap. The jacket was too small, and the cap too big, but it would do. Carrying my stuff in an important looking bundle, I slipped out the back door of the locker room. The hallway beyond led straight to the parking garage, giving newly uniformed officers quick access to their vehicles in case of an emergency. I just had to hope that there weren’t any other officers suddenly arriving at the station.
I got lucky. The garage was dimly lit, but I knew my way around, and before long I was back on the streets, just another officer on patrol. After a couple of blocks I took off the jacket and cap, putting my own stuff back on.
Light laughter from the dark alley made me spin in a surprised circle, in search of the source. There was no one in sight. Shrugging the sound off as nerves, I tossed the jacket onto the alley floor, figuring someone would find it before too long. The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention as the mocking laughter drifted through the alley again.
This time I recognized it. I still couldn’t find the source, but it was the same sound as the laughter I heard from the Crimson Makos, just before they branded me. I took off at a run down the alley, and the laughter picked up as if mocking my inability to find its owner. This time, however, the laughter came from a dozen places, all around me. ‘It’s not time yet!’ I thought furiously as I ran.
I burst out into a main road and saw three men in police uniforms a few blocks down. Their backs were to me, thankfully, or I would have found myself thrown in jail after all. A woman in grey clothing, her face hidden under a hood, was frantically moving her hands around as if speaking animatedly, but no sound reached my blood pounding ears. With a mad dash, I threw myself into another alley and began to make my way back towards Professor Rafkin’s house.
I almost made it.
A few blocks away from safety, I turned a corner and ran into a large, shirtless man. I was going so fast that the force of running into him knocked me backwards, and my feet slipped out from under me. I landed on my ass in a small puddle, which was disconcerting mostly due to the fact it hadn’t rained in days. Even more disconcerting, the crash hadn’t budged the large man in the slightest.
The man turned around slowly to stare at me, and I noticed a few things. First, he was huge. Easily six feet tall and nothing but muscle. Second, not only was he shirtless, but he was also pant-less, his nakedness covered only by a simple loincloth made of some kind of spotted fur. Third, held on his hip by a small strap was a dark stone knife that glittered in the moonlight. Fourth, his skin, noticeable even in aforementioned moonlight, was a golden color, just like the little girl, June’s.
And the fifth thing I noticed, and perhaps the most important, was that he was not alone. Three other figures, nearly identical to the first, loomed out of the darkness around me. Their eyes almost looked to be black as coal, and their hair, while varying in lengths, were the same shade of either brown or black.
I jumped to my feet as quickly as I could and stared at the men. The first one smiled at me, revealing yellow, crooked teeth. “That’s him.” He said in a deep, gravely voice.
An instant later all four of them lunged at me, swinging fists as quickly as they could. I’ve been in a fair number of fights in my life. I’ve given out far more beatings than I’ve ever taken. Tonight wasn’t one of those nights. The men never went for their knives, but they didn’t need to. Every time I dodged out of the way of one of them, another would manage to land a hit, punching me in the face, the ribs, or the stomach, or kicking me in the shins or thighs. One of them even landed a painful, and embarrassing, kick to my rear end, sending me rolling across the ground.
I gave as good as I got, however, managing to land a few heavy punches and kicks of my own. I put one of the men out of condition completely with a well-aimed kick between the legs, but it was a losing battle. After about thirty seconds, which felt closer to thirty minutes, one of them finally landed a punch on my jaw. The stars fell out of the sky and danced across my vision to the beat of my heart. As I blacked out I heard the laughter of the Crimson Makos closing in around me.