The Case Files of Jake Malone

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Chapter Eight

I hung out in the background while we waited for forensics to arrive. I knew my own personal clock was counting down, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the crime scene. After about half an hour a gray haired old man made his way up the steps and got the story from Frank. He then came over and took my fingerprints, asking, as Frank did, what all I had touched inside. That way they’d know to eliminate me as a suspect.

Frank came over to stand with me. He had just opened his mouth to say something when the rookie officer Tom came running up the stairs. “Dead!” He said without preamble. “They’re all dead.”

“What?” Frank asked, staring at the kid in shock. “Slow down, who’s dead?”

“Everyone!” Tom responded, his voice high and thready. “This whole building!”

Frank broke himself from the wall to join Tom. “Show me.” He demanded.

Tom took us from room to room. In every one the scene was almost the same. A woman stabbed, with no knife around, a man’s throat slit, and worst of all, a child’s neck broken. All of the knife wounds looked like they came from the same knife, and I’d put money on it having been the knife found in Grace Redding’s body. The connection hit me hard. This was obviously not the work of someone I’d seen during my cop days. And what Lenny had said about them… ‘Just slice, slice, snap, stab, dead.’

“Damn.” I said almost reverently. “No wonder he was so scared of them.”

“Who?” Frank asked, tearing his eyes away from the mutilation in front of us. “Why who was scared of them?”

“Lenny.” I said, turning my back on the room. “He was scared to death. So much so, that when the subject came up he socked me across the jaw.” I waved my hand at the darkening bruise on my chin.

“Lenny?” Frank demanded. “Lenny the Liar hit you?”

“It’s nothing.” I shrugged. “I was more surprised than hurt.”

“What was he afraid of?” Frank probed softly.

“Some new gang called the Natives.” I replied, tearing my eyes away from the child with a broken neck.

The officers in the room froze. All of them. Slowly, several pairs of eyes turned towards me, and I could see the officers walling themselves off from me. “Listen carefully.” Frank said in a tone that brooked no nonsense. “There is no gang calling themselves the Natives.”

“What?” I demanded. “Then what’s all this?” I asked, waving a hand towards the dead bodies.

“A single killer, who has yet to be identified, killed everyone in a rich apartment complex. Probably looking for money for drugs.” He stared me in the eye as he said it, pronouncing each word carefully.

“Don’t give me that crap.” I told him. “One person did all this? And only one apartment was trashed? No. A group of people did this, killing everyone so that there would be no witnesses when they killed my client and searched her apartment.”

“It is possible that the single assailant only had time to raid a single room after killing the people here before he heard you arrive. It is possible that he then left through a back door, or open window.”

“That’s the story you’re going with?” I demanded. “Frank, I’ve known you a long time, and you’ve never tried to keep a case quiet like this. What the hell is going on?”

“There is no new gang.” He told me clearly in the silent room. “The police are winning the fight against the Crimson Makos, and when they are gone, there will be no more gangs. We are not going to scare the public into thinking that some imaginary gang is on the loose, killing people in their homes. We will catch the maniac who did this, and that will be the end of the story.”

I wanted to argue with him, tell him he was being stupid, but the look in his eye told me he already knew. It was the famous blue shield. If you were a cop, you were behind the shield, and all information was available to you. But if you weren’t a cop, even if you had been before, then you’re now in front of the shield and the only information you get is what they dribble out to the public. It was insane, but it kept a lot of people safe. “Fine.” I told him with a curt nod. “I take it I’m free to go?”

“Yeah, Jake. You’re good to go. But you know the drill, you may be called in for questioning, so don’t leave town.”

I laughed humorlessly. “The only way I’m leaving town is in a body bag.” I told him seriously, the mark on the back of my neck burning.

Before he could respond I turned on my heels and left, storming out of the building. Time was running out for me, but for some reason I just couldn’t bring myself to give a damn. There was so much death in that one building, and so much denial from the cops, that I found myself almost longing for the Makos to make their move on me. Almost.

Instead I found my feet taking me to an old place just off of downtown. It used to be a tavern, before Rider got his claws on the city, and was now a small restaurant. The place was built into the basement of a department store, and the only way to get inside was to go down a flight of stairs on the side of the building. When I walked in I found the place full of life and activity. Sounds of people laughing, talking, crying, and listening to the radio, and smells of fresh food, cigarette smoke, and sweat, hit me like a physical blow, slowing my steps as I went inside.

No one turned to look when I came in. No one shouted my name, or went eerily silent. That was what I loved, hell what everyone loved, about Sam’s Place. Nobody cared who you were outside of the tavern. I mean restaurant.

I made my way up to the bar and sat at the only stool available. “Whiskey.” I told Sam, the owner and bartender, when he came to get my order.

He shook his head. “Sorry friend, ya know there’s no alcohol served in the city.”

I looked up at Sam in surprise. He was middle… everything. Middle age, middle weight, middle height. Even his hair was somewhere in the middle between black and gray, and bald or not. Despite the fact that he was also the cook, his white apron was surprisingly clean, and he carefully looked around the place as he told me there was no alcohol. Which meant that somewhere in here there were undercover cops looking for bootleggers. I sighed. Of course there were. It was that kind of day. “Of course.” I told him, waving my hand. “Just soda water.”

Sam nodded and headed off to get me my drink, and I took a look around the tavern. Usually I could spot an undercover with no difficulty, but tonight I couldn’t tell. I turned back around and leaned on the counter, trying to make sense of the last day. Sam put the drink in front of me and headed off to talk to other patrons.

I must have sat there for quite a while, and Sam was good enough to refill my water without my asking while he left me alone to think. I put my hands in my pockets and felt the key I had taken from Grace Redding’s apartment. I’d completely forgotten about it. I pulled the key out and examined it. The key itself was short, with a round orange handle. On the top of the orange handle, just barely visible in the bad lighting of the tavern, were the numbers: 83.

Sam moved back my way to check on the drink and saw the key in my hand. “Where ya headed?” He asked, wiping up a small spill next to me.

“What?” I asked, confused.

He nodded towards the key. “Well ya’ve got a key for a storage locker, so I figured ya were headed somewhere.”

I looked down at the key again and realized that’s exactly what it was. “I’m not sure yet.” I told him, concentrating on the key.

“Well ya better figure it out.” He laughed. “Curfew will be up soon, and if ya aren’t at the train station waiting for yar train, ya’ll never catch it.”

I liked the way Sam talked. I have no idea what kind of accent he had, but it was almost infectious. “What do I owe you for the drink?” I asked, standing up suddenly.

“For water?” He laughed. “Ya don’t owe me anythin for the water.”

I pulled out a five and handed it to him. “For the advice then.”

“Thank ya Jake. That’s mighty kind of ya.” He said, pocketing the money with an easy smile. “Now go on. Don’t want ya missin yar ride.”

I laughed and headed out of the bar. I had a lead. All I had to do now was get to the train station and the rest would be easy.

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