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Edge of Midnight Monday: Dead Men Tell No Tales

by Azrael

Case One – The Death of Harry Fontaine

Chapter Two – Dead Men Tell No Tales

27th October, 1949, 11:25 AM

The mobster, the socialite, the historian, the private dick, the crazy scientist; they had nothing in common with each other except my death, and a few minutes after they crammed themselves into my office there were already signs of strain. Only time would tell whether they could stick together long enough to do anything productive before exploding like a cheap firework.

My office had been picked almost clean by the cops, who’d flocked like vultures to my digs after they found my bullet-riddled corpse. That didn’t stop Shirley and the rest from looking around though, and sure enough the plucky broad found something. I just hoped the bug she found in the telephone handset might lead this oddball bunch to whatever rat bastard snooper had been listening in on my phone calls.

Since most of my files had been nixed after I got clipped, Shirley and the others didn’t have much more to go on, without sweeping the area for witnesses at least. The future of the investigation rested with Giles, the only one who’d seen my personal case journal, the one I carried around with me everywhere I went. I just hoped he’d be able to pull himself together for long enough to lead the others in the right direction.

I never really had much to do with Jake Bullet before I got popped. Sure, he’d come round regular as clockwork to collect my protection money, but I can’t say I was ever too eager to keep the guy around. He’s mobbed up to the hilt with the Pattersons, and though some might say it pays dividends to make friends with guys who’ve been made by the brothers Patterson, I preferred to keep our relationship strictly professional. We’d say our how-ya-doin’s and share a bit of quick banter about the last game we heard on the radio, but the guy wasn’t exactly on my Christmas card list, if ya catch my drift.

Watchin’ him with Shirley and the others though, I’m coming to think that maybe I made a mistake in that. Sure, he uses the threat of violence to make people come through with the business for him, but I gotta say that he pretty much seems like an everyday Joe trying to do the right thing. Maybe we could’a been friends, if things’d worked out different.

POV: Jake Bullet

The office is getting crowded, and after it’s been searched a few times I find that I’m starting to get more curious about these other people. I look them over, but I’m not yet sure what to think. I know Shirley, so I dismiss her from my thoughts for a moment – as hard as that is to do, and I concentrate on the others. The strange man leaves, and the rest of us follow, drawn in his wake in the same way that people gather around car accidents with a gruesome morbid curiosity.

We gather around outside Al’s and discuss where we’re going next. The strange man, I think he called himself Giles, has gone inside. Probably to buy more alcohol, from the smell of him he consumes a lot of it. I wait for him to step back into daylight, at which point I notice his eyes. There’s something wrong with his eyes, but it’s hard to see past his sunglasses. As he turns, I catch him at the right angle. Purple. His eyes are purple! There’s only one explanation I can think of, and it’s not one that I like.

The others are discussing a trip to the city morgue, and I excuse myself momentarily to go and talk privately to Al. I ask him where Sammy lives; that’s the boy who works the evening shift and who was here last night when Harry was shot. Al gives me the boy’s address, and filing it away for later attention, I return to the group in time to step into Ruby’s limo and take the smoothest ride of my life, with the strangest company. As my gaze settles on each person in turn, it pauses on Shirley, and I re-assess. Perhaps the limo is the second smoothest ride in my life.

When we arrive at the morgue, we’re a little unco-ordinated. We don’t have a handle on each other yet, and have not yet fallen into a comfortable relationship. Shirley and I decide to head down to the morgue and tell the others, they seem to agree that we should be the ones to do so, but Giles just lumbers off heading in that direction. Not wanting to arrive at the same time as him, and be associated with the freak, Shirley and I are forced to take an alternative approach.

Still a little frustrated we arrive at the ‘business’ entrance of the morgue, and I try my hand at picking the locks. I don’t have enough time before a van starts backing towards us. I slip my lock-picks back into my pocket and stand back. There’s a guy with a corpse to deliver, and he wants to know what were doing there. Shirley comes up with some story that doesn’t seem to be working, so I cut in with an attempt to disorient the man. I give him a nod and a wink, suggesting that the lady with me gets all heated up at the idea of being in a morgue. I’m not sure he gets my insinuation, or then again maybe he does, but he doesn’t like it. Thankfully I’m not sure Shirley completely noticed, leastways she didn’t shriek at me. Seeing our opportunities diminishing, Shirley floats on over to the guy and her feminine wiles hit him like a sledgehammer between the eyes.

He agrees to leave the gate open for us when he leaves, and so we hang around for a few minutes. I stay quiet, waiting for Shirley to explode at any moment about my earlier insinuations, but as the silence drags out, I come to the opinion that she missed it. About five minutes later we’re in, creeping down the morgue corridor. We pass by the main office, and then moments later see the head guy cutting into a corpse. He seems occupied, so we head back to his office and try the door: locked. I pull out my picks and start work on the lock, but before I can get it open Shirley’s hassling me to let her try. I hand the picks on over, and as I have done so often before, I admire her careful and delicate touch.

Closing the door quietly behind us, we rummage through the office. Folders, papers, drawers, looking at everything. I pocket a hipflask while Shirley seems focused on a file. I give it a quick glance, but it’s not Harry’s file. The name seems familiar, but I am distracted as I hear footsteps approach. I poke my head carefully out the door, and I spot someone heading this way. Thinking quickly I point at Shirley, “Get your clothes off, drape yourself over his desk. I’m hiding in the coat-cupboard!” and then giving her no time to argue I slip into the closet and draw the door closed behind me. Getting comfortable amongst the fine quality coats I watch through a crack in the door as Shirley looks around. She doesn’t take all my advice, but does drape herself across the desk, so that when the owner arrives, she’s all smiles.

She spins him her line about investigating Harry’s death, which comes across as true as it really is. She even shows her PI ticket – didn’t know she had one of those, and there was me thinking her claims to be a PI were exaggerations. So it isn’t long before I see him leading her off to see the body. I hear the door lock behind them, and sigh as I extricate myself from my hiding place. Another quick look around, and I resume lock picking. It takes me a few minutes, but the door clicks open. Returning to the cupboard to obtain myself a new cashmere coat, I exit the office, locking the door behind me, getting the hang of these lock picks now, and I saunter down the corridor as if I owned it, exiting via the back and waiting around front for the others.

The others finally join me, and we arrange ourselves once more inside Ruby’s limo, driving back to Snoops’ Row while James reads to us from Harry’s casebook, which it seems has been found. James points out that a few pages have been carefully removed with a razorblade. Suspicious! Not knowing which case has been removed, we decide that we’ll look into Harry’s other recent cases, to see if they shed any light on the situation.

Interestingly one of the cases includes the disappearance of a young boy, who is known to be a friend of Sammy – the one who works at Al’s. Yet another reason to talk to the boy.

We arrive in Snoops’ Row, and decide to gather at Shirley’s office. I make my excuses, saying I’ll join them in a few minutes, and I return to my backroom to drop off the newly acquired hipflask, cigars, and cashmere coat. I’m a little surprised to find my boys nursing some wounds, but they unveil a single large Gaunt tooth. Impressed and pleased I offer them whisky and cigars, asking them how the fight went, reassuring them that they did a good job, and I pocket the tooth with thoughts on getting it linked to a chain, with grand plans for many more teeth to follow.

By the time I arrive at Shirley’s office, the others are all there, except for the lady herself, she’s out. Waiting, I make myself at home, sitting back in her chair, flipping through some of her papers, and drinking her coffee. She has quite a few case files, but flipping through them I find them mostly empty or old. Doesn’t look like business is all that good for the place. Which I guess I kinda knew, what with her being unable to pay her weekly protection money any other way than with the assets she was born with. There I was thinking she chose that particular payment method for some other reason, her claims of financial difficulties just an excuse… ah well.

Shirley arrives while I’m deep in thought, and I put down her files, casually, I’m not bothered that she caught me reading them. She mentions something about a bug in her phone, she found it earlier, and was off talking to someone about it. Looking around at the others I’m glad they were paying so much attention and kept me informed. I’m not used to being around others who don’t consider me the top of the local food chain, and it is not a comfortable feeling.

Time passes without much conversation. I don’t know if it is the presence of the eerie Giles that is putting people off, or if we’re still just getting a handle on each other. Shirley sits down to read some papers she’s pulled from her handbag. She goes white and needs a stiff drink, and has me intrigued. I hold back though, she’s less likely to answer questions with so many others present, and with our ‘appointment’ tomorrow, I don’t mind waiting. I let my attention instead be drawn to the conversation between James and Giles. The latter admitting to being a warlock (that confirms my suspicions about his eyes) but claiming that he is licensed. Ruby asks if he was in the war, and he says he was. Adding that he fought on our side. I hadn’t suspected otherwise, but his effort to point it out makes me ponder. I don’t really think he didn’t fight on our side – but it makes me think what ‘our’ side is, and if it really is possible for a warlock to be on the same side as decent humans. Despite his creepiness, I guess he deserves a chance. Finally however 5pm rolls around, and it being the time Sammy arrives to work at Al’s, it makes sense to go question the boy.

We all enter Al’s, with Shirley and myself approaching the counter alone to talk to Sammy. He knows who I am, so talks readily. He says he heard the gunshots last night, and hid – smart boy. Shirley asks him about this boy from one of Harry’s cases, and I can tell he’s hiding something. Leaning forwards, at a slight angle, I let my jacket fall open to show the holstered gun, just reminding Sammy of who he’s dealing with. Fingertips tap casually at the counter while I say in a soft voice, “Come now Sammy, you’re hiding something. Spill it, whatever it is” coming across as forceful, with just an undertone of threat. I don’t want to scare the boy into thinking I’ll break his face, but he’s got to learn about being up front when I ask him questions, and no time like the present to learn that lesson.

I’m watching Sammy’s eyes, and I see the barrier to the truth break down. He’s about to reveal the truth when SLAM! Giles’ cane hits the counter-top. Sammy jumps. Giles starts threatening the boy which sends him over the edge, falling over, curling and cowering in fear and panic. I roll my eyes in frustration, yet another delicate situation ruined by Giles’ heavy-handed approach. Shirley and I have to comfort Sammy, reassure him that he’s going to be ok. He breaks down sobbing, and so I push him into Shirley’s comforting arms which soon do the trick. Sammy finally tells us how a game with this younger friend of his led to a fatal fall. The boy’s shock and horror, fear of what he’d done, even though it was an accident, led him to hide the body and bottle up his guilty emotions. It’s a liberating feeling for him, I can tell, finally releasing himself from the burden of secrecy. We reassure the boy that he’s going to be fine, that we’re not going to tell anyone, and he seems more than willing to do any favours we might require in the future. Talking of the future, I see a promising one for this boy.

The bell on the shop door sounds, and I turn just to make sure that no-one is overhearing the conversation, when I see the bag carrying stranger enter the shop. Looks pass back and forth, and James, who is better positioned, mouths something about him having a gun. I see Shirley’s stance change, giving herself ready access to her handbag, and likewise I position myself where I can watch the guy, my hand ready to quickdraw my automatic.

The guy looks us over, and is obviously a stranger to these parts as he doesn’t recognise me, nor the danger he’s in. Reaching into the bag he lets it drop away, revealing a sawn-off shotgun that he’s brandishing in Sammy’s face, shouting for money.

I cast my eyes this way and that, trying to gauge how everyone else is going to react. Do we wait for him to turn to leave, thinking he’s safe? Too late, Shirley’s gun is drawn and she plugs him in the shoulder. It seems like the play’s been called, so with a burst of speed I slide my hand under my jacket. I draw my gun, aim, and shoot all in the blink of an eye, a burst of crimson flowering on the guy’s shirt. He’s levelling the gun on me, but the hot lead piercing his body has him disoriented, and while he shoots at me, he misses wildly. Not a lucky day for this man, his weapon exploding in his hand, shards of hot metal hitting him in the chest and face. Some of it hitting me, but I don’t feel the scratches as they bleed down my face. Guns don’t explode like that, and I turn to look at Giles – suspecting him of some magic, though in this case I find myself not too objecting.

It’s all too much for the man, and he turns tail and runs, only to run headlong into Giles’ cane, taking blow after blow until it’s too much for him and he drops, cowering and pleading for his life. I want to know who this man is, that he thinks he can operate on my turf without my say so. This is unbelievable, one day Harry being gunned down, and the very next Al’s place being rolled. Maybe it’s a coincidence, or maybe this is the start of a campaign against me. Giles is still beating the guy, so I shout for him to stop. Everyone else seems to be doing the same, with James and Ruby ineffectually grabbing at him and trying to pull him off from the guy. Giles’ purple eyes make him look as if his blood lust is up, and that he’s not going to stop until the guy is dead. Maybe it’s pent-up rage from discovering Harry’s dead? Maybe he’s just psycho! Shirley and I share a look of concern, and then she pops a round from her revolver into Giles’ foot. A little too non-lethal perhaps, but might make him back off. Giles recoils back, screaming in insanity, yelling about the consequences of such things, and turned to glare at the building across the road. Puzzling behaviour, though one has to bear in mind that strange behaviour is to be expected from the mad – and he certainly seems mad. Then there’s a terrible stomach churning wrenching sound, and the brickwork of a corner of that building just collapses, pulling down the rest of the building with a terrible roaring sound of crashing masonry.

I stare dumbfounded as the building slowly collapses into rubble, and finally my senses click back into place as I hear sirens in the distance. I’m not too concerned with explaining the attempted theft, but I don’t know how to explain this. I grab the phone round back and call the boys, telling them that I want a car waiting for me back at my place within the next half-hour, then my auto-pilot leads me to grab the would-be thief and drag him off to my office to give me time to think. Shirley wants to know where I’m going, what I’m going to do, and I tell her to come with me, that I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. She’s walking with me, we’re pushing the guy along, but I can’t take my mind off the families that lived there. This is a cheap part of town, people are crammed in tight to buildings. It has some advantages, the sense of community is greater, people pull together and look out for their neighbours, something I’ve taken advantage of now and then. But at a time like this, I can’t but help thinking of all the recognisable faces of the people that live there. No, the people that lived there. I’m having a hard time imagining that anyone could have escaped, it all happened so fast.

This is my turf, and for the second time in as many days, disaster has struck. I play back in my mind what I could have done. When Shirley shot Giles in the foot, I could have delivered a follow-up shot to the head, I could have put him down before he could wreak such havoc. I knew he was a warlock, and yet I ignored my gut instinct to waste him. Even though he has this suspicious look, despite the weird behaviour, I acted against my better instincts, I treated him as if he might be human, might be worth the benefit of the doubt, and now my community has been terrorised. Countless dead. My views on warlocks are further reinforced, and my only choice now is what do I do about it? Do I contact the police? Do I pass it up the Patterson chain? Do I try and deal with this myself?

I gotta wonder, is Jake gonna show me the lie to his pleasant manner now? He looked angrier than any man I’ve ever seen after what Giles did, and to be honest I can see why he’d feel that way. If looks could kill, the professor would already be history.

Which brings me on to Sinclair. I gotta give the guy credit, he’s keeping company he usually wouldn’t get anywhere near and so far he’s holding out. I do worry for the guy, though; he and the rest are getting closer to the truth, and that’s a dangerous commodity around here.

Still, if anyone comes gunning for Sinclair they’d better not underestimate the guy. I got the feeling that if they do, they’re the ones who’ll end up being fitted for a wooden kimono. The guy’s got sand, even if he does look exactly like the pasty-faced academic he really is.

POV: James Sinclair

Generally when a guy has a morning as crazy as the one I’ve just had, there’s only two ways the rest of the day can go. Either it sobers up just enough to drag itself back to normality again, or it further tightens the screws, just to really bring the message home. And with clues on Harry’s death still amounting to dust, you can guess which street it took.

Our somewhat mismatched gang had filed out of the last scene of Harry’s life and onto the street, wondering where to go from there, when Giles ambled out of Al’s and turned towards Shirley, mumbling something about a book ‘close to Harry’s heart’. A bit of digging revealed that said book was a journal for his most recent cases. A book Harry kept on him at all times. Which put its current location at the Gateway City Morgue. Question was if anyone had run through Harry’s pockets yet, and we sure weren’t going to wait around for an answer. As he talked, I managed to catch a glimpse behind those glasses of his, and what I saw made me freeze faster than a greaser at the Law’s Annual Dinner Dance. Purple. His eyes were glowing purple. Judging by the reactions of the others, they’d guessed the Golden angle Giles was hiding- glowing purple eyes can only mean one thing.

Warlock.

Problem was, I’m not sure the rest of our happy little band knew exactly how severe the situation was. Sure, being marked in such a way is practically conclusive proof that you’re a warlock, but the thing is, those things aren’t as common as John Q. Public believes. Not every warlock is hiding an extra finger, or covering an odd birthmark- no, the ones with obvious signs of abusing the Common Laws are those that are either very good at what they do, or very, very bad at controlling the urge to fire off spells at random. Either way, it reads ‘handle with care’. Not that I’m against warlocks at all- I have very good reasons not to be. But it’s like sitting next to someone wearing so much iron they clank when they walk. Caution and respect are needed, unless you like the idea of spending the next half hour on fire.

Regardless of the new development, Ruby offered her limo as a ride, and we all piled in. Either Giles’ unsettling aura had grown, or maybe it was the sudden insight we’d caught into his character, but whatever the case, the ride to the Light of Mercy seemed a great deal more uncomfortable than the limo’s suspension and Ruby’s complimentary beverages should have allowed. Or maybe it was due to everyone but Giles cramming together at the other end of the car.

We must have looked like some sort of comedy outfit when we got out the other end under those faceless angels decorating the hospital roof- heck, we were an odd enough bunch even without the limo entering the equation. Looks like our ideas fit together as well as we did- Shirley and Jake cooked up a plan to investigate the morgue themselves, but Giles beat them to the pinch by heading that way himself, forcing them to take an ‘alternate approach’. I wasn’t sure what it entailed, but I’d bet it was about as pleasant as it was legal.

Once the others had drifted, it was just Ruby and me. And Ruby didn’t get where she was by playing wallflower. Everything about her screams for attention- mink doesn’t just blend into the background. Before long, she’d attracted the attention of the janitor, a gaunt- not that I have anything against gaunts either, but with the effect they have on people, you would have thought employing one in a place like this just didn’t jive. Of course he wanted to know what a lady such as herself was doing in such a place, and before I could so much as blink she was crying into my shirt, sobbing about a friend in the dead room. Either she wanted to see Harry after all, or she wanted an excuse to get away from the sudden company; in any case, we ended up treading the black line down towards the wards where the patients mostly came out the same way they came in- although occasionally missing the goods they just couldn’t take with them.

As we walked, I couldn’t help but notice Ruby’s mascara was pristine.

Giles was handing over some cash to an orderly when we arrived, who gave us the up-and-down before waving us on down the corridor. The place stank of chemicals, felt like death and looked like a tomb with a sideline in washing powder. The room we were led to was worse. The chill here was real, and another smell hid beneath the chemical tang that I didn’t want to get to know any better. As the orderly went to open one of the steel doors lining the place, I suppressed a shudder. I hated hospitals at the best of times, but even then, at least you knew the people around you were alive, for the most part.

The door opened with a shriek that cut the air like a knife, and the orderly casually pulled the slab out and unwrapped its contents for inspection. I drew in breath sharply. Whoever had snapped Harry for the Clarion had definitely got his good side. From the front, he was barely recognisable. As far as I could tell, whoever had knocked off Harry didn’t leave much to chance- his chest was a pulped mess, his usually neat waistcoat-and-tie ensemble drenched in this season’s top colour, and half his face was gone. I’d have said the gunner knew how to handle his rod, but then, I’m a historian, not a cop. What do I know?

Giles immediately turned on the charm, threatening the orderly until he left. Ruby followed him- I didn’t blame her. Being stuck in the middle of a filing cabinet full of corpses with Giles and what remained of Harry wasn’t my idea of a good time, either. Once the door slammed, all respect for the dead went out the window as the two of us frisked Harry’s body for clues- no time for apologies. Giles immediately went for his waistcoat’s inside pocket and was rewarded with a leather wallet with a bullet-hole straight through- looks like that trick doesn’t work if the guy on the other end uses a 316. All I could find was a bunch of soggy bills, a couple of dimes and some uselessly pulped paper. Muttering an apology, I set about straightening Harry’s clothes to an approximation of what they’d looked like before we’d arrived. Not that it would matter to him, but it was the principle of the thing. Besides, the less the coroner knew about what Harry once had on him, the better. Let him get distracted by the pulped bills and clammy dimes. We had what mattered.

Giles seemed to find the contents of the wallet more interesting- a small, leather-bound book with a bullet through it. Something grabbed my eye as he flicked through, and I took it off him for a closer look. The book was a case journal, as he’d said- filled with information on people, places, clues, and any number of anecdotes and tangents that Harry had thought up while filling in the details. Looked like he wasn’t bad with faces, either- penned sketches filled up the gaps in the cases, showing targets, takers and acquaintances. I could have sworn one of them was our own PI, Shirley Homes. One picture in particular kept cropping up, though- a jane with long black hair, carved deeply into the pages as if Harry had traced each sketch over and over. No prizes for guessing. Eva.

Looking at the cases, it seemed that Harry had been pretty busy- one was the standard missing kid type: Benito Angeli, son of a restaurant owner, vanished without a trace. A familiar name came up, though- Sammy Fuller, the same kid Al mentioned acted as his assistant during the late shift. The second case grabbed me even more- and not just because Harry’s handwriting seemed to explode with excitement. His attempts to track down Eva were apparently starting to pay off, and he’d heard rumours that she was dancing in a club in Eastowne, run by the Tongs. Poor guy. He was so close, too.

It took me a while to find what had struck me as odd the first time, but I found it between the two cases- a few pages looked to have been carefully removed with a razor. Remembering Harry’s letter, this must have been the divorce case- either things were more hinky than Harry thought, something had prompted him to remove them, or someone had got to the book after he’d croaked- in any case, we now had another case on our hands- to find a missing one. Even by Harry’s standards, it would have been a strange job.

A sudden noise jolted me out of my thoughts- the door handle was being wrenched with that cold screeching sound of metal against metal. Immediately, a hand caught me on the shoulder and wrenched me to my knees as the lock clicked and the coroner entered, flanked by Shirley- all business and no acknowledgement. I followed suit and acted as naturally as I could, given the surroundings. Luckily the coroner had more issue with Giles’ praying than the bulge in my coat’s inside pocket, suddenly feeling as if it was twice as large and made of lead.

As Shirley got to work in the corpse room, I was all for getting out of there- but it seemed Giles still had some unfinished business, namely involving some paperwork and a gaunt. Thankfully he finished whatever it was before the blood started flying, but the gaunt gave him a slant that could have put anyone six feet under.

On the way back to Shirley’s office, I filled in the others on what I knew- reading out the cases Harry had taken most recently, as well as bringing up the missing case. Jake’s eyes seemed to light up when I mentioned the Tong involvement with Eva’s club- guess it was to be expected, given the circles he ran in. The journal was handed to our resident snoop for further investigation and safekeeping- it was her case now, after all.

At the office, our gumshoe pulled a familiar item out of her handbag and placed it on a hatstand- Harry’s hat. Looked like she took a souvenir from our little meeting at Harry’s place. Guess we all remember people in different ways- besides, it felt oddly appropriate, given its history. The scene quickly turned sour, however- Shirley froze and dashed out of her office, saying something about someone breaking in. As if by instinct, she homed in on the horn, and unscrewed the mouthpiece, revealing a depressingly familiar sight- another bug, just like the one in Harry’s office. Looks like whoever bugged Harry had been keeping tabs on who visited the scene- and we hadn’t exactly been subtle. As soon as the day was over, I resolved to drop by my office and see if my blower had been tampered with- never mind the fact that it would take someone truly cracked to try and get past Bill and into the restricted area.

Giles took a look at the thing, proclaiming he knew of such gizmos, but ultimately came up blank. So much for that. Shirley decided to take matters into someone else’s hands, and walked off. Given the amount of snoops in the area, there had to be someone who knew about those things. With luck, she wouldn’t be running straight to the guy responsible. I brought up the matter when she came back, but she just brushed it off- I suppose that if you’re in her line of work, caution and paranoia come naturally. Seems that there’s always something that can hit you broadside, however- as she leafed through some papers from her handbag, she went white as Wonder Loaf. She said she was fine when I asked her, but the double scotch in her hand said otherwise. Seeing as further interrogation would only upset her, I tried to see if I could get a better handle on Giles. We all knew what he was, but rather than bump gums about nothing, I brought up the topic of magic, and if he’d ever dabbled in it. Giles understandably went on the defensive, saying he had the license and fought in the war- on our side, he added quickly. Not the most reassuring argument, but if he had the license, he’d at least be careful how and where he twisted physics to his liking. Or so we thought.

5pm rolled around, and we rolled up to Al’s once again. Nice as the limo was, I felt that perhaps Ruby could find something that didn’t exude the aura of dough so strongly- in this neighbourhood, it stood out like a gaunt in a beauty pageant. Sammy didn’t exactly blend into his surroundings, either- a kid his age usually had no business being in a liquor store, let alone being behind the register of one. Jake started it off slowly, asking about the night Harry was bumped off- he’d stayed behind late that night and heard the gunshots, although he didn’t hear a car. Then Shirley happened to mention the Angeli case, and Sammy went from shifty to full throttle, his words coming out like Central City lightning. Bullet obviously caught the shift in gears too, as he started turning up the heat- I just hoped he wasn’t going to follow through on any veiled threats he made. You hear stories, after all. It almost looked like the kid was about to crack when Giles shattered the tension and most probably his last remaining nerve by slamming his cane on the counter and threatening to “float him to the moon”, sending the kid to pieces. A bottle of whiskey to bribe the warlock out of the way and a quick, if unplanned embrace on Shirley’s behalf and he spills everything in a torrent- obviously something had been preying on his mind and he wanted nothing more than to let it all out. It turned out that he and Angeli were friends, and often met up in the local scrapyard. The last time they met, however, there was a typical childhood argument between friends that got out of hand quickly and messily- one thing lead to another and Angeli took a tumble- straight onto a concrete rebar. Sammy did the only thing he could think of- hide Angeli’s body and run as fast and far away as he could. Not the noble thing to do by a long shot, but when you’re raised on horror stories of Gunmetal to keep you in line, anything seems better than potential jail-time.

The bell over the door sounds, and I turn to see a wrong number walk in- thick sweater, scarf over his face, gloves, heavy bag- not exactly normal, even if it’s not exactly a Paradiso summer outside. A quick shift in position and I catch a flash of metal from inside the bag- a shotgun. It doesn’t exactly take a genius to add up the factors in this equation, and as soon as the palooka turns to ogle Ruby, I mouth a quick warning to the others. Immediately, Shirley edges towards a set of shelves for cover, and Jake turns, watching the guy with seemingly bored disinterest. Satisfied that nobody in the store looks capable of posing a threat, the hood lets the bag drop away and brandishes the gun in Sammy’s face, screaming for cash. Seeing that things might take a turn for the ugly, I shift towards the only person without any decent cover while shifting my grip on my umbrella- it may mean exposing myself, but I’m sure as hell not going to let anyone get killed for my sake. For her part, Ruby kept the pretence of being terrified, while carefully slipping a small pistol out of her purse. Looks like she came prepared.

The one that acted first was Shirley, showing that her oversized handbag wasn’t just for show- pulling a revolver large enough to make any mobster green with envy, she gave the robber an unhealthy dose of lead poisoning in the arm. Jake followed suit, whipping out an automatic and plugging him square in the chest.

That was when the hood pointed the shotgun at Jake’s face and I knew things would get graphic unless I acted. Muttering under my breath and idly tapping my fingers against the umbrella’s handle, I focused on the shotgun- the strength of the metal, the mechanism that made it work, the intricate bonds holding it all together- and gave the numbers and equations a slight twist there and there… The guy’s gun arm jerked wildly, and the shotgun exploded into a hundred razor-sharp fragments. Smooth, James. There’s no way that even the most coffee-and-doughnut guns explode that easily. If I ever wanted to pull a stunt like that again, I’d have to pay more attention to the mechanics. Guns and firing mechanisms through history. Looks like I just found the theme for our next exhibit.

Understandably, the enterprising gunman turned tail and fled- straight into a resounding blow from Giles’ cane. Shirley announced she was going to call the police, but something stopped her- namely, the lack of stopping on Giles’ part. The warlock was launching blow after blow on the now cowering man, pleading with Giles to stop. I hooked his cane with the crook of my umbrella to let the warlock know that the show was over bar the cops arriving, but he wasn’t having any of it. The beating resumed, and even with Ruby joining in to try and restrain him and Jake and Shirley yelling for him to hold off, it was clear that Giles was intent on giving the trapped man the Broderick and beyond. The tug-of-war came to an abrupt halt when Shirley, either sick with the scene or more hard-boiled than I thought, shot Giles in the foot. Instantly, the warlock started screaming about consequences- but it was what followed that made me feel as if I’d swallowed balls of frozen lead. His hands gestured wildly, and his seemingly unintelligible screams made enough sense that I could tell what might be coming next- and before anyone could stop him, he fixed his blazing purple eyes on a building across the narrow street. A sickening rending, tearing sound filled the air and the front of the tenement collapsed in upon itself, followed quickly by a hail of debris and rubble as the roof caved in, the lower floors following as they failed to bear the load crashing down upon them. We all looked at the growing pile of rubble in shocked silence. How many people were in that building? I thought that licensed warlocks were supposed to be responsible with their magic- but the one currently glaring at the carnage may well have just committed murder on multiple counts!

The sound of distant sirens snapped me out of my daze, and seemed to spur the others into action- Jake grabbed the shocked thief and hauled him out of the store and down the rubble-choked street, Shirley at his heels and demanding to know what they would do. Ruby was running in the opposite direction towards her limo, furs flying and heels clicking a staccato rhythm on the sidewalk, dragging Giles behind her. The shock might have dulled my senses, but one thing was crystal clear to me- there was no way in hell I was letting Ruby travel alone with someone who had just torn down a building, licensed warlock or not.

I took one last glance at the wreckage that had once been home to several families.

Damn it.

If James thinks unearthing lost history is a challenge, the guy’s seen nothin’ yet. When Giles is in one of his black moods, you just never know what’s gonna happen, and he can be a hell of a handful. I’m sure Ruby thinks she can deal with the prof, but she might have cause to thank Sinclair for coming along for the ride before the day’s out.

Shirley’s doing pretty good with her investigation so far, though it makes me feel kind of hinky when she throws herself at strange guys as a way of getting information or favours. Ah, who am I to judge; it’s hardly an investigative option that was available to me during my breathing days, and it seems to get results.

She’s gotta be careful, though. Someone’s already showing a keen interest in the fact that she’s looking into the circumstances of my untimely demise, and things can very quickly escalate from a bugged office to a chest full o’ lead. I speak from personal experience on that particular point.

Dying was bad enough in the first place, but I’d never forgive myself if I dragged Shirley down with me.

POV: Shirley Homes

The copper smell of blood was heavy in the air, and I was getting concerned that the police would soon return to the scene. We’d scoured the office for clues, but presently had little to go on. Someone had been snooping into the snoop’s phone calls, of that much we were certain, but who? And why? His latest case notes were missing, had the gaunt who gunned down Harry taken those? I decided to think about it later, and leave the gory reminder of Harry’s demise. I suggested that we headed to my office down the road, it would also give me a chance to talk to this varied group, and find out exactly what relationship they’d had with Harry. Maybe if one was particularly close they could tell me something about his latest case.

We headed down to the street, Giles went on ahead and was coming out of Al’s liquor store as we finished locking up. I was close enough to hear him mutter about “Harry’s Heart book”… This sounded rather intriguing so I forced myself to sashay up to him, and giving him a winning smile I enquired what he was talking about. Despite his mumbling and romantic sentiments it turned out that Harry kept a case book on his person. We decided to head down to the morgue to see if we could find the book, hopefully it wasn’t washed up in the bay, and hopefully the autopsy lads hadn’t found it. It was a slim chance, but that book was the best lead we could have.

Lady Ruby offered up her limousine, everything about it, just like her, smacked of quality. It was rare I saw threads like these, and rarer still when I had a chance to experience them first hand. We were pretty quiet in the limo, each mulling over our own thoughts. I sipped the scotch Ruby had offered, it was smoky from having aged longer than myself, a pleasant change from the throat burner I kept in my office.

We pulled up to the hospital and entered the main reception. I pointed out that the morgue probably wouldn’t like a whole group of us piling in. I suggested going in as I could do so officially, and I figured Jake would be the best to come with, no doubt he’s seen a stiff or two already. At least. The others agreed, apart from Giles who once more decided to make my investigation as hard as moving after a binge in a speak easy. He lurched off in the direction of the city morgue. I sighed inwardly, Jake had the same thought about not wanting to arrive to be associated with the creep by the morgue staff, and we decided to try the back entrance. It wasn’t hard to find, but it was locked and there was no one on the other side. Fortunately it turned out that Jake had some lock picks in his pocket, and started to tinker with the lock. I leaned against the wall, keeping half an eye on him, and the other out for trouble. It came fairly soon, saving Jake’s pride as his fingers were fumbling with the tools worse than a drunk with his house key. I told him we had company and he pocketed the picks and stood back as the ambulance pulled up. The driver had a stiff to deliver, but wondered why we were at the back of the morgue, and not going in officially. I tried to convince him that I had someone important to me to see, but wanted to do so privately, I have to admit I was a bit flustered when he started questioning, so Jake stepped forward to try to explain. He muttered something to the driver, but judging by how the man’s expression changed it wasn’t particularly convincing. I sighed inwardly again as I decided that a more… personal approach was needed. I sashayed right up to the guy and gave him my most charming smile; suddenly he forgot how unconvincing our argument was and was quite happy to leave the door unlocked after we left.

Jake and I stepped round the corner to be less obvious. I lit up while we waited, a habit that helped me think. I wanted to consider other leads, and what our next step would be if the case book didn’t turn up. I didn’t get far before I felt Jake’s eyes wondering over. I tried not to notice, every time he looked at me with those dark smouldering eyes I got the worst case of butterflies. Charming, broody and powerful, it was a combination any woman would find heady. I had to keep this purely professional; well, as professional as I could given how I was paying for protection.

The lift door rattled and the ambulance drove off, we nipped into the elevator and headed down. We dodged officials as we passed autopsy rooms and a staff lounge, and found ourselves in the coroner’s office. Jake started to poke around the desk, so I headed to the filing cabinet. Harry’s file was there alright, but pretty empty. They hadn’t done the official autopsy, the only report was that the bullets had been sent off to see if they matched a previous crime. Well, it was early days, but we needed more to go on. I looked over my shoulder to see Jake still rifling through the drawers. As I glanced back I noticed that the next cabinet held the ‘H’ files, I wonder… I opened it up, and in a few seconds had laid hands on the file I was after – that of Josh Homes. I looked briefly at the papers just to confirm that was my brother’s file, then replaced them with some reports from a thicker file. I’d just replaced the folder when I heard the approaching footsteps. I looked around to see Jake pocketing something and dive into the coat cupboard. Such a gent… I stuffed the papers into my handbag and leant casually against the desk and put on my ‘official’ smile for when the coroner walked in. He certainly seemed surprised to see me there, but after coming up with an excuse I showed him my ticket and he was happy to escort me to Harry’s body. Seems it had gotten a few more visitors, I figured Lady Ruby and the professor had also come down. At least by talking to the coroner face to face I could persuade him that I was on official business.

Outside the chill room was indeed the fur clad Lady Ruby. The coroner, who had introduced himself as Gregor Inich, asked her for permission to see the body, so goodness only knows what she told the morgue to get in. Inside is the body with Giles and James. It’s messy, and bloated, but unmistakably Harry. Another PI, no doubt iced due to some case that went deeper than he realized. It raised hairs on the back of my neck, and got my rage rising at the same time. Although Josh’s killer still eluded me, I made a silent vow to do everything I could to vindicate Harry. Giles suddenly pipes up and asks who I am. Slightly confused by his motive for doing so I went along and introduced myself. I then asked if I could be left alone with the body, Gregor protested that I needed staff with me at all times. Smiling at him I agreed, and waited a moment while the other gents stepped out. I asked Gregor what he knew about the body, but he just mumbled something about not having done the autopsy report. He didn’t seem too willing to pass them onto me when he’d finished either. Nothing for it, I leaned against the gurney, silently apologizing to Harry – sorry, but needs must! I smiled, both charmingly and inwardly as Gregor adjusted his hairpiece nervously, I guess my instincts about the guy hadn’t been wrong! He picked up on the clues and we’d arranged to meet for drinks in a couple of days without any effort. After that he became more than happy to give me a tour of the stiff to explain to me what he could observe straight off. I indulged him as he seemed to enjoy showing off, but seeing Harry’s bloated body handled like that wasn’t exactly easy.

We made our way out to the front and back into the limo. Fortunately James had successfully retrieved Harry’s journal, which we inspected on the way back to snoops’ row. Turns out some pages had been carefully removed, I wondered who by… Had Harry taken them out in case his book was found by the wrong sorts? Either way those pages were out there somewhere, and could be a vital clue. In the meantime we were going to look into the other current cases to see what we could work out.

Also a mention of Eva, still here in Gateway if the last sighting could be trusted. I didn’t know much about her past with Harry, but my suspicious side feared the worst.

I unlock my office and head in, I’m about to put my foot down when I spot a footprint embedded in the carpet, and certainly not mine. I’m about to take a closer look when someone bumps me from behind, ruining the print. It’s enough to get me worried and a going over of my office reveals a bug in the phone, of the same home made variety we found in Harry’s. I put coffee on for the others and decide to call on Jack Stapleton, a former cop who has an office down the hall, in case he saw something.

Jack didn’t see anyone enter my office, but apparently some gaunt was knocking at my door earlier. I didn’t like how the co-incidences were mounting up… I decided to ask him about the bug, he couldn’t tell much except that it was a good design. He offered to have someone look at it to try and find out more.

When I return to my office Jake’s returned from his, and he’s settled down behind my desk with a coffee rifling through the files on it. The audacious big six that he is, ah well, there’s nothing there worth knowing – it’s just a bunch of old files to give the office that ‘I’ve just nipped out’ look. The group and I chat and decide to go to Al’s at 5pm to meet up with Sammy when he gets to the shop. That gives us about a half hour, I decide to pass the time by reading Josh’s file. Heading into my back office I pull the papers out of my purse. The first thing I see on the main report are the photos. They did a good job of dressing the body for the funeral, and it hits me hard to see him in such a mess. I can’t really take in any details, and after while help myself to some scotch to try and ease my nerves. Suddenly I’m aware of the conversation happening out in the front room; seems Giles had a bit of a run in with a gaunt porter at the hospital, James confirmed he was a warlock, to which Giles vehemently pointed out a legal one, which was followed by Ruby’s enquiry about the war. He also answered positively, and added he’d been fighting on our side. No one had assumed otherwise, until then…

Well, it explained a few things I’d observed about him, and around him. Well, no one liked warlocks much, but to my mind so long as they didn’t interfere by my work I’d leave them alone. Magic could leave some seriously strange clues during an investigation…

Five o’clock rolls around and we decide to head to Al’s. As expected Sammy’s there, and he confirms what the coroner said about gunshots being heard just after 10pm. Unfortunately he’d been hiding away out back and hadn’t seen anything. Nothing earlier either. Harry’s case book had mentioned Sammy in connection to the disappearance of Benito Angeli as a possible lead. I decided to see if Sammy did know anything, but as soon as I dropped the name poor Sammy looked terrified. Jake leaned over him and his intimidating poise seemed to be having an effect, right up until Giles really scared him. Then the poor boy who was struggling as it was just became a blubbering wreck. Although I calmed him down he refused to talk with Giles in the room, and while Jake bribed the creep out with some whiskey I assured Sammy that we wouldn’t tell the cops, and that his secret was safe with us. Between all the weeping we got it out that Sammy and this Angeli had some kind of falling out, and Sammy had fatally pushed him into some debris. He’d hid the body in a wrecked fridge which was why no one had found it so far. The poor kid was obviously devastated, so I offered to deal with the body, make it look like an accident, so at least the family could get some closure. Sammy was understandably grateful, no doubt I could call on him for a minor favour sometime in the future.

I was running through some options in my mind when a man carrying a hold all came in. He looked slightly startled when he saw us, but I wasn’t sure if it was just the variety of our group that unnerved him. He started browsing, and I did likewise, trying to catch a glimpse of what was in his bag, but I could only see something shiny. James then passed by him, then looked at me – our fears had been confirmed. I moved behind a metal display cabinet for protection and reached into my handbag. Within moments the man had approached the counter, and dropped the carry all, holding the sawn off he’d had inside. Aiming it at Sammy he demanded all the cash in the till. This wise guy was holding up the wrong store, poor Sammy had been through enough already. As I’m lifting my revolver out of my purse out of the corner of my eye I see James open his umbrella. Some protection that would be! I aim for the guy’s shoulder, I’m hoping he’ll drop the shooter and this whole situation will diffuse. I fire, hitting slightly lower than I’d hoped, but still seeing a satisfactory amount of shoulder blade bone fly out with the bullet behind him. The blood wells out from the wound across his coat, but he’s still holding the sawn off. Unbelievable. Turns out Valentine isn’t completely defenceless, and as things escalate pulls out a piece. Jake then decides to join in, his gun is in his hand in less than an eye blink and he shoots, hitting the would be robber right in the chest. Guess his intentions are a tad more lethal than mine. He’s figured that too as he swings round and goes to shoot for Jake. However he’s probably going by momentum given that his shoulder is shot, and fires too far on the upswing. That’s the least of his problems as suddenly the gun barrels explode, sending shrapnel splinters everywhere. The guy is totally out-gunned and realizes what a poor situation he’s in. He backs up to the door where Giles is waiting for him after having been sent out with the whiskey. He raises his cane and smacks the guy on the head. He collapses on the floor, surrendering, and a gibbering wreck to boot. Giles mumbles something about the police, and after confirming with Sammy that there’s a phone out back I head there to call the boys in blue. However Giles is still beating up this guy! I yell at him to stop, sure the robber was armed, but he’s defenceless now, and I want to question him. James tries to hook Giles’ cane with his umbrella, to no effect, he and Ruby try to pull Giles away, which isn’t doing any good either. I decided to act before Giles beat the guy to death and plugged him one in his foot. He started cussing at me, but at least he wasn’t beating on anyone. Suddenly, he starts muttering. There’s an eerie silence for a moment as he looks across the road. Without warning a huge part of the tenement block opposite just collapses. Just like that. A huge pile of rubble in the street where the road and building used to be. People live close in those places, I dread to think what the body count will be. Anger builds up within me, legal or not a warlock has no right to act so heinously!

Suddenly things happen quickly, Lady Ruby and James shift Giles into her limo and head off, Jake hauls the robber up and starts half dragging him off. In my shock I’m trying to ask him questions, but Jake wants him out of here so I just tag along. What an absolute mess…

By now I’m beginning to wonder if Giles is ever going to be free of the dark places inside himself.

POV: Giles Xavier

I looked about and saw the clean white walls of the hospital. Feeling the world turn I looked up, seeing the sign to the morgue; I felt my feet pull me along. My only friend was at the end of this black paint marking the floor. Was this how he was going to be remembered? I felt something inside me, Bitterness? Pain? Sorrow? Whatever it was I felt its bite like a chill wind howling across the bay. I got to the morgue and some guy decides I need to pay to see Harry. I look at him and think how easy it would be for the earth to eat him up.

Images of the war flicker into my mind. I had my family back then and things were better. Sure I watched men get crushed under their own weight as I squashed them like ants. It didn’t matter what they threw in my direction, nothing broke the lines. I was like a cliff face to a flotilla forced onto the rocks by the swell.

Snapping out of it I pushed a wad of cash into his hand. I didn’t know how much was there and I didn’t care, I knew I had to help Harry. Two of the others caught up with me but I ignored them as I walked the white halls. We turned into a cold room, metal cases covering the walls. I could feel the dead inside each one, the weight of the world pulling them. It was strange, almost like It knew they were to join the earth soon.

Harry was pulled out of the wall, his form on a cold slab laid out like a piece of meat in a butcher shop. Riddled with bullets as he was I had more flashbacks…

The unit I was supposed to be protecting being mown down by a half-track. Its machine gun cutting into them like the reaper’s scythe, ribbons of blood filling the air.

Snapping out of it I told the orderly to get out. I wanted time with Harry and there was something else… his book… his killer.

Reaching into his breast pocket as the door clicked shut I pulled out his journal. Suddenly someone else pulled out of the fog next to me. It was that guy who arrived with ruby – her butler or something… always carrying an umbrella. I let him take it from me, my hands feeling like lead fell to my side as I looked at Harry’s corpse. Suddenly all the pain rushed into me but before I could do anything the door groaned. I pulled the butler to his knees and began to pray; I wanted to find his killer, to bring the strength of the world dragging him down.

Turning we headed out, the world flashed by and suddenly we were in an office, the coffee was being made and I watched it drip down, spiralling through the air and plunging into the black depths, each one like the planes I pulled out of the sky, spiralling towards the ground before plunging into the cold earth.

We moved out, heading for the liquor store; the boy wasn’t talking and I lost my cool. I slammed my cane down into the counter and the boy snapped, whimpering about accidents. The red sunset pushed me out of the store with a couple of bottles of whiskey; looking at them I realised the cold truth. Harry was dead… my life was flying in the wind, tattered like the rags that hung to dry in the bad part of town. I pulled open the bottle and drank, the warmth washing down my throat. Half a bottle was gone in the blink of an eye, but that didn’t matter. I watched a guy in black appear out of the shadows, carrying a bag he headed into the store. As I watched him go I took another long swig until the bottle was empty. I let it drop from my hand, crashing into the floor, spiralling into a thousand pieces.

Suddenly there was gunfire from inside; the stranger had a shotgun in his hand and shot at Jake. The gun exploded and he ran for the door, bumping into me…

This was him, he had come back. He wasn’t happy with killing Harry he had come to kill any witnesses, to kill that poor kid inside. I hit him with my cane and he stopped looking at me, raising his hands.

“Call the cops!” I yelled and Red moved inside.

I hit him again with my cane and he dropped to his knees asking me to stop. But this guy had killed Harry.

I hit him a third time, rage building inside me as he fell to the floor.

Then there was a sickening “whumpf” and pain shot through my leg. Looking down I had a hole in my foot. Red had shot my foot…

Rage swam into my eyes; I was going to crush her, turn her and him on the floor into puddles of their own mess; a darkness swam about me. I started losing my vision to the purple haze I had in the war. The shadows of nearby buildings grew heavy, knowing what I was about to do… I would kill her and Harry’s murderer…

At the edge of my mind I heard something, something harry had said…

“If you are gonna lose your cool take out out on things that don’t matter…”

We were in the slums, looking around I saw a dilapidated building full with the dregs of society. Twisting reality I pulled it into the ground. Like a house of cards in a mobster’s den falling when the bullets started flying, the building crashed down…

The next thing I knew I was in a car sirens coming from behind as we disappeared into the night.

Originally authored by: Adam, Alice, Azrael, Guy, & Skimble


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