The Case Files of Jake Malone

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Chapter Seven

I took the first taxi I could find, not even paying attention, or even caring, as I pushed past a woman and her child in my haste to climb into the cab. The driver turned to protest until I shoved two twenties in his face and gave him my home address. Taking the money with a grunt the cabbie drove off, leaving the woman on the boardwalk shaking her fist at us. I barely registered it.

I’d been marked by the Crimson Makos. I’d need a mirror to confirm it, but I could feel the three dots on the back of my neck as if someone was pushing on them. I checked nervously out the window every couple of seconds, as if I expected a bullet with my name on it to come flying at me. It was ridiculous, I knew. The Makos always gave a person twenty-four hours to put their affairs in order before they killed them. It was kind of them, in its own way.

Twenty-four hours. That number kept repeating itself in my head. I couldn’t believe I had so severely underestimated Lenny the Liar. What had caused him to change so much since I last pumped him for information?

‘The Natives.’ I realized. ‘They have even Lenny so freaked out that he’s willing to punch people, willing to kill, just to keep the fact he knows about them a secret.’ I shouldn’t have chased after him like that. I wasn’t on a time crunch or anything. I could have easily waited a day or two, then caught him at one of his favorite haunts.

But I hadn’t waited. I’d chased after him, as reckless as any rookie cop after his first collar. It had to be because this case was hitting too close to home. It was making my judgment cloudy. A week ago I never would have chased some lowlife down a dark alley with my gun drawn. I’d have been calm, cool, and collected. But this had become something more than a lost item. It was the last object my father had ever searched for. It had been the reason he never came home. I wanted this case solved. I wanted the Moonstone in my hand so that I would know why he died.

And I only had twenty-four hours to find it, before the Crimson Mako gang would kill me. There was a strange irony to the fact that the search for the Moonstone would be the ultimate cause of the death of two men in the Malone family. I just hoped that Jimmy wouldn’t go after it if I failed to find it.

And suddenly I knew I couldn’t fail. I had to find it. Not just to justify the death of my father and myself, but also to keep Jimmy from falling to the same fate. My mind cleared, and the countdown in my head became meaningless, just as the driver pulled up in front of my house. I got out and walked up to the door, ignoring the cabbie as he drove away.

I unlocked the door and stepped in, putting my gun away, and once again throwing my jacket and hat onto the gun rack. I grabbed a beer from the kitchen and went into the bathroom, popping the top as I walked. From the drawer under the sink I pulled out my wife’s old hand mirror. With shaking hands I held the mirror behind my neck, and looked at the double reflection from the large bathroom mirror. Sure enough, the mark of the Crimson Makos was there. Three distinct red dots, each about the size of the head of a pin, in the form of a triangle. I had the sudden inspiration that it wasn’t a triangle they formed, but the fin of a shark, like their namesake the mako.

I put the hand mirror back and leaned on the counter with my eyes closed, taking a drink every minute or so. I’m not sure how long I stood there, but when the phone rang in the living room, my bottle was empty.

I left the bathroom and dropped the empty bottle on the coffee table in the living room as I answered my phone. “Malone.” I said in a dull voice as I put the phone to my ear.

“Um,” A woman’s voice on the other end stammered, “Is this Jake Malone, the private investigator?”

The voice was familiar, though I’d only heard it once. Grace. “Yes, Ms. Redding, this is Jake Malone.”

“Oh good.” She said, relived. “I sent someone to your office, since you don’t have a phone there, but I was told you weren’t there.”

“I’ve been hitting the streets.” I told her honestly, “Trying to locate the object for you.”

“Ah.” She sighed. “Yes, about that…”

My eyes squinted in angry thought. “Yes?” I asked, perhaps a little too angrily.

“Um, you don’t need to look for it anymore.” She said apologetically.

“You found it on your own?” I asked in surprise.

“Well, no. No, I still don’t know where it is. You just… don’t need to look anymore.”

‘The hell I didn’t.’ I thought. “Ms. Redding,” I said in a stern tone. “You’ve already paid me to look for it, and I have every intention of putting that money to good use to help you.”

“It’s okay.” She said softly. “Go ahead and keep the money. I’m not going to need it.”

“Ms. Redding?” I asked. A dial tone answered me. She’d hung up. “Oh, hell no.” I swore, putting the phone down. I went back to my jacket and grabbed her contact card, then picked the phone back up and began jabbing my fingers into the numbers. The phone rang six times, then went dead. I tried again, and didn’t even get dial tone, as if the phone was no longer connected.

“I did not get myself a death sentence just for you to change your mind.” I told the phone, slamming the receiver down on the base. “No way in hell am I giving it up like that.”

I grabbed my jacket and hat, this time leaving the gun behind. I was angry, but I was still a little freaked out that I was so willing to use it just a little while ago. When I emerged into the outside world I found it growing dark. I’d been home longer than I thought, wasting what little time I had left in self wallowing.

There was, of course, no taxi out this far in the suburbs at this time of the evening, and I didn’t want to waste the time it would take to call one. Instead I took off running towards the city, glancing once at the address for Grace Redding that Jimmy had given me only the night before. In retrospect, it probably would have been a lot faster to just call and wait for a cab, but I needed to release as much nervous energy as I could, and the running helped. I’m fairly sure I would have gone insane if I’d had to wait twenty minutes for a cab to pick me up, even though it took almost an hour to run through the city.

In the end, sunset had just begun to send a glow through the dust filled city as I found myself panting in front of 1201 Jackson Street. I stared up at the building. It was a four story building just on the outskirts of downtown. The street was still cobblestone for another two or three blocks before it petered away to dirt road again. The building was made with a lot of glass windows, most of them with thick curtains drawn. A double glass door entryway was the only visible entrance into the building that was otherwise a uniform white in color. The strange thing was, the walls looked clean, as if someone went through and washed the dust off the outside every day. Considering the money that I’m guessing Ms. Redding had, that may be exactly what they did here.

Once I’d caught my breath I stormed into the building as if I owned the place. Hidden radio speakers played soft music through the lobby so that people visiting their loved ones, or signing up to rent a room, had something in the background to listen to. Tonight, however, the lobby was completely abandoned. A strange sense of discomfort wormed its way through me, even though I fought to ignore it.

There was a strange smell in the air. Sweet and metallic. It tickled the edges of my conscious thought, but I put it aside as I found a small map of the apartment building. Grace Redding’s apartment, number seven, was on the third floor. Apparently the first floor was dedicated to office space, a pool, the lobby, and a gym, while the remainder of the floors held four rooms a piece. Judging by the size of the building, the apartments had to be nearly as large as my house.

I made my way to the stairs and began trudging my way up them. Running through the city is one thing, but stairs use entirely different muscles. By the time I got to the third floor my thighs were burning with exertion, and a slight pant had come back into my breath. Apparently I needed to work stairs into my morning routine somehow.

It didn’t take me very long to find Grace’s apartment. It was the one with the door hanging slightly off its frame, the wood splintered as if someone had kicked it open. Suddenly wishing I’d brought my gun along after all, I edged towards the door, listening carefully for any sound. I didn’t hear anything. Surely, at this time of night, someone would be out and about. And certainly, someone had to have called the police about what must have been an extremely loud break-in.

But despite my logic, no sound made it to my ears. I crept up to the door, and gently nudged it open with my toe, waiting for some sort of attack. I needn’t have bothered. Grace Redding was laying on her back in the middle of the living room, as naked as the day she was born, her black hair splayed out behind her like a giant fan. A knife made of a glassy black stone stuck out of her chest, plunged nearly to the hilt into her heart. There was no surprised look on her face, simply contentment as her glassy eyes stared at the ceiling. A small pool of blood had built up next to her, where it had poured from the wound in her chest, until her heart had completely stopped beating. The blood was still wet, not having coagulated in the oxygen, telling me that she must have died recently. Probably right after she got off the phone with me.

A little voice was screaming in my head, telling me this was insane. That nothing here was right. It was a gibbering, maddening thing, threatening to bring up whatever my last meal had been. I shut the voice away, locking it behind the years of police work that had conditioned me for this sort of situation. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t the worst murder I’d ever seen.

With a detached calm I took in the details of the room around me. The decoration leaned towards solid blacks and whites. The walls were painted a pristine white, and nearly every piece of furniture was a shade of deep black. Black leather armchair, black coffee table, black bookshelves with small knick-knacks on them instead of books. A black radio sat next to a white phone. The kitchen, visible at the end of the living room was much the same, lots of black and white, with solid gray cookware. The only thing out of place was a large couch on the left wall of the living room. It was a bright orange color that reminded me of construction workers, and it clashed horribly with the rest of the room.

Or it would have, if the room hadn’t been trashed. Whoever had killed Grace Redding had been looking for something. Couch cushions were ripped open and thrown about the room. The knick-knacks on the bookshelves had all been knocked over, or thrown onto the floor. The phone was unplugged from the wall, but otherwise intact, while the radio was ripped open. Pots, pans, and dishware were scattered across the floor of the kitchen, most of it in pieces, and the cupboards were all hanging open. Two doors leading off the kitchen were open, leading, I assumed, to the bed and bathrooms.

Moving carefully so that I didn’t touch or disturb anything, I made my way to the phone and plugged it back in. I called the police. “Police station.” A peppy female voice answered. “What’s your emergency?”

“There’s been a murder.” I told the woman calmly, my eyes strangely drawn to the couch cushions, instead of the body.

The woman’s voice became more serious, for which I was glad. An emergency responder shouldn’t sound so happy. “Where did the murder take place?” She asked, her voice crisp.

“Twelve oh one, Jackson Street.” I told her, my voice still clinical. “Apartment number seven.”

“Alright sir, I’ve sent officers to your location. What is your name?”

“Doesn’t matter.” I told her. “I’ll be here to give the officers my report when they arrive.”

“Sir!” She protested, “I have to ask that you stay on the phone until the officers arrive!”

I hung up the phone. Moving carefully through the rest of the apartment I found more of the same destruction. The bathroom was a mess, the mirror on the wall shattered on the ground, and toiletries spread throughout the floor. Even the bathtub and toilet had been torn apart. Whatever the murder was looking for, he was desperate to find it. The large mattress in the bedroom had been ripped open, its contents spread across the floor with the dresser drawers. Grace’s clothing was nothing but rags, though one of her sheets had managed to remain mostly untouched.

I picked up the sheet, perfectly aware that I was disturbing a crime scene, and headed back out into the living room. I draped the sheet over Grace’s dead body, figuring that she at least deserved some respect, as I heard the police sirens approaching. I was about to step out into the hallway when something caught my eye.

One of the ugly orange couch cushions had two different buttons. One was flat and round, while the other was more cylindrical. I glanced at the other cushions and found nothing but flat circular buttons on them. It was yet another anomaly. I grabbed the strange button on an impulse and pulled on it. It came out of the couch as if it had just been pushed in, rather than sewn on. What came off the cushion was not a button at all, but a key with an orange handle.

I pocketed the key and stepped out into the hallway just as the police officers pounded up the stairs. “Hold it right there!” One of the officers demanded, drawing his gun and pointing it at me.

“Easy there cowboy.” I told him. “I’m the one who called you.”

“Identify yourself!” The officer demanded, his gun unwavering.

“Oh shut up Tom.” Said a familiar voice behind him. It was Frank Roland. “That’s Jake Malone.”

“Frank.” I nodded to him.

“Jake.” He nodded back. “We’ve got to stop meeting like this. This is what, the second crime scene of the day for you?”

“Technically the first.” I responded with a grimace. “I went the other way at Lucy’s.”

“That you did.” He told me, walking forward and studying my face. “How bad is it?”

I shrugged, lowering my hands. “The Cosmo was worse, but this one’s just weird.” I sighed, “And personal. The vic was my client.”

Frank winced. “Okay. Have you touched anything? Disturbed the crime scene?”

“Yes.” I replied, earning me a look from both Frank and the rookie Tom. “I covered her body with a sheet, and I used the phone to call you guys.”

Frank’s eyes softened. “Okay. Let’s see what we’ve got.”

“One question first.” I interrupted before he could walk in. He raised his eyebrow at me, but stopped moving. “Was I the first to call this in?”

“Yeah, why?” He responded.

I waved towards the door frame and said, “That had to be noisy, not to mention what went on inside. And no one in the building calls you guys? No one comes out to see why so many people are in the hallway?”

“That’s more than one question.” Frank replied, though his heart wasn’t in it. “Tom!” He called back to the young officer with the gun. “Take some of the others and check the rest of the building.”

A rookie he might have been, but Tom took the order willingly, grabbing a few men and pounding on the doors in the hallway. Frank moved over to Grace’s apartment, and like I had earlier, kicked it open lightly with his foot, careful not to touch anything. “Damn.” He swore. “That’s one hell of a mess.”

“It gets weirder.” I told him from the hallway. “Check under the sheet.”

Frank looked at me in morbid curiosity, and edged his way over to her body. Using a pencil he carefully pulled the sheet off of her enough to expose her head and see the wound. “What the hell?” He asked, looking closely at the knife. “What is that knife made of, stone?”

“Obsidian would be my guess.” I confirmed. “Volcanic glass.”

“Damn.” He said, returning the sheet and stepping back. “She looks so…”

“Content?” I finished.

“Yeah.” He replied, stepping out of the room. “Okay, we’ll have forensics go over everything as soon as they get here. In the meantime, how are you involved in all this?”

“She hired me to find something for her yesterday afternoon. She called me a little over an hour ago to tell me that I didn’t need to look for it anymore, and that I could keep the down payment she gave me. Didn’t sit right with me, so I came to talk to her about it.”

“What did she hire you to find?” Frank asked, nodding, as he made notes in a small notebook much like Jimmy’s.

I shook my head. “You know I won’t talk about a case until it’s finished.”

Frank looked pointedly at the body under the sheet, then back to me. “Jake, the woman that hired you, fired you a day later, and was found dead an hour after that. Sounds to me like your case is closed.”

“Someone wanted her to stop looking for the object so much that they killed her even after she called me off. No, the case isn’t over yet. She deserves, deserved, better of me.”

“You aren’t a cop anymore.” Frank said gruffly. “It isn’t your job to find murderers, it’s mine.”

I shook my head again and said, “I’m not looking for the killer. I know where my credentials stand.”

“Then when will the case be over?” He asked, genuinely curious as he closed the notepad.

“When I find what I was hired to find.” I told him, staring into the room at the body of my first client in weeks.

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