13th Precinct - Issue One
By: Bob Yosco
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Contact Information: reviews@shadowkeepzine.com - Enjoy this new bi-monthly serial by Bob Yosco...

 

The neon sign above the Yak-Hair Tattoo Parlor was flickering, or else I’d have walked  past and not stopped to notice the Sorry, We’re Closed sign on the door. Closed? In spite of local ordinances forbidding a retail establishment from doing business in this district past 2 AM, the proprietors of the Yak often needled their clientele straight through the night, so seeing the doors shut at seven in the evening and the iron shutters not fastened down was reason enough to peek inside and wonder why.

            Not that I could see much past the beads, feathers, and generally indescribable odds and ends in the way, but the sign crackled and sizzled as I flattened my nose against the glass, and I’ve been a cop in the 13th long enough to know I was getting the heads-up that something was wrong. A quick jiggle of the knob told me the fragile glass door was locked, but I always carry persuasion supplies with me when I’m on the job, so I made it inside without a hitch. Another light started flickering from the back of the store so I made my way down the narrow aisles until I spotted a bloody outstretched arm.

            Sure, at that point I should have called for backup, but somebody let out a groan just as the thought crossed my mind and I forced myself not to milk my service revolver in suddenly sweating hands. A big dude with a wicked looking knife suddenly rounded the corner from the back, and was bending over to finish off whoever was lying there when I shouted for him to freeze. Can you believe it, the guy actually looked at me and smiled. Squinted through the dim lights and grinned up at me and all the lights in the store came on at once and cast the place in an eerie glow as they flickered on and off. Grinning boy gave me a wink and bent back to his business and I shouted again before I fired. Okay, maybe the shot came along with the warning, but if you’d seen that knife and stood there in the eerie strobe you’d have done the same thing.

            My own lights went out as the old snubnose gave up the ghost and exploded, and I didn’t even feel the floor come up to greet me.

#

            The 13th was always…different. And I don’t mean weirdo different, every city has its share of hem-sniffers, Johnson-flashers, and guys who write passionate love letters to their socks. No, the 13th was different. The only part of the Apple the Brits didn’t torch when they turned most of Manhattan into one big marshmallow roast during the Revolutionary War, Soho has forever drawn the oddballs. First guy hanged by the English during the fight for independence? Mordacai Huddy was his name and yep, he was born and raised downtown. Local chapter of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War was here, the Daughters of Liberty who fought for the right to vote started here, and right before the turn of the 20th Century the artists began moving in, lock, stock, and canvas. It stayed that way for the longest time, a haven for those out in left field, and didn’t start to change until WW II ended. Then New York was suddenly a haven for a different kind of refugee, and the nutcase population swelled to the brink of bursting.

            Of course it wasn’t always the 13th. It started out that way then was changed to the 12th when the City Planners redid the boundaries for the boroughs back in the 1920’s, and the superstitious cops were happy to be finally rid of the number. That lasted until technology decided it was time to change things again, and in the late 80’s some computer shuffled the numbers once more and back came good old 13. Not that the area didn’t warrant it, if anywhere, the lower east side was perfect. I’d joined the force right after Nam and since I didn’t have connections, that’s where they first assigned me. I shuffled out for a time or two, but 13 always seemed to call me back, and I finally settled in and eventually got my gold shield. Oh sure, I thought I was accustomed to the strangeness, but when they opened the sidewalk in front of the old Tweed Courthouse and found those bodies dating back to colonial times, well, weird became downright strange.

            “So the door was unlocked and you just walked in.”

            An intern was stitching the cut above my left eye while Lieutenant Haley busted my horns, and I was very sad I hadn't asked for something to numb the pain.

            “The shutters were up and the Closed sign was facing the outside, Lou. You know that place never really buttons up, so yeah, I went in to see why.”

            “I don’t have to check your jacket, Boyd, because I remember all the times the Department asked you to get rid of that ancient Colt and replace it with a decent semi-auto, but now’s not the time to harp on that.” He harped. “Lucky thing you didn’t lose an eye, and even luckier the perp didn’t put you on his carving list after finishing with what’s his name.”

            “Woolf. Somebody Woolf, Lou. Bought the place maybe four years back.” I reminded him.

            “Right, I sent Fleming over to the address listed on the license to notify any next of kin and see what he can dig up. Was it usual for only one person to man the store at night?”

            “Can't see much from outside, Lou, and I never felt the need for a Yak Hair tattoo so I’d never been inside before. Seem to recall there were brothers who bought the place from old man Morgan, but the beat cops would know better.”

            Haley hung around long enough to make sure he wouldn’t have to call the Mayor and report a dead cop, and the intern finished his embroidery just as a head popped around the curtain separating the room from the rest of the floor.

            “Castanuts? You Detective Castanuts?” the pimply-faced kid inquired.

            “CastaNET.” I replied.

            “Yeah well there’s a ton of cops waiting outside and they’re blocking the hall. He good  to go, Doc?”

            The intern agreed that I was sound enough to be discharged as long as I promised to go straight home and not run any marathons for a while, so as soon as he bandaged me up I hopped in the wheelchair so zit-face could wheel me out to the awaiting throng of blue. I suffered the obligatory pats on the back, and forced a crooked smile to reward the guys for their effort as I was wheeled out to the awaiting cruiser that would take me to my apartment. At first the docs had made noises about wanting me to stay overnight, something about how my skull really shouldn’t be so thick, but they knew not to push a cop when he wants to go home. Hey, I was feeling bad for letting that skell get away, and besides, I didn’t have my harmonica and don’t even start on me about what it does to my love life but I never spend the night without it.

#

            “Tried leaving a message at the hospital but they told me you’d already left. We’re on our way back and don’t make like you haven’t listened to the machine, call me on the cell and let me know how you’re feeling. Catch you in a few.”

            I erased Johnny’s message after playing it back for the third time, and actually did think about calling the kid. Good kid. Got his gold shield after only two years in the bag and was the prototype for the modern cop; smart, professional, sober, and clinging to a mobile phone like it was some kind of modern talisman lifeline. But I was feeling too ashamed to have made him cut short his weekend trip to the Smithsonian, and didn’t feel like explaining why I went into that store when I was supposed to be on maintenance duty. That’s what they call it when a cop my age is without his regular partner, because he’s only supposed to shuffle paperwork, hang loose for a couple of days, and certainly not get shot by his own gun. And here the kid was, not breaking any speed limits mind you, but heading back to the City with his girlfriend in tow and damn, they’d both probably pop in on me right around midnight when all I wanted to do was swallow some aspirin and sleep. But since that wasn’t to be, I dialed the house and got a hold of Sgt. Burke.

            “Boyd, even if I had anything I’m not supposed to talk to you about it. Haley wants you out of the loop, and that’s that, okay?”

            At least he had the decency to whisper so the whole floor wouldn’t hear. Out of the loop. Twenty-eight years on the job, enough comp-time to retire whenever I wanted, and here some brand new wiseass Lieutenant was trying to keep me away from what should have been my case.

            “Look, Tommy, I’m not out to bust chops just throw me a bone. If you don’t wanna talk then for Chrissake nod hard enough for me to hear, because I just want to know if Fleming got a handle on anything.” I asked, trying to keep my anger in check.

            “Boyd, Fleming’s already called your partner so ask him. Look, I gotta go.”

            He didn’t even give me enough time to say thanks for nothing before he hung up, and I stared at the phone for a while. The kid wouldn’t stick it to me, it’d come up in the conversation that he’d called the house to ask how I was and just happened to speak with Fleming, and I was wavering between anger and self-pity when the doorbell rang. I put down the harmonica and slipped my backup piece into my pocket as I walked to the door, and felt like an idiot when the peephole opened and no one was there. Kids. The neighborhood was turning into one big kindergarten for unmannered yuppy puppies and I swore I was going to hook the bell up to a decent electrical charge one of these days…

            “Constable?”

            The voice came from behind me and I swear to all the saints I almost let go of my bladder. My head throbbed in protest as I spun to confront the strange little man in the funny hat, and for the second time in one night I took a shot at a guy with a big knife.

#

            “Johnny all I can tell you for sure is that he got off three shots. So far we’ve only found one blood type and it matches his, but I can't be 100% sure until I take the scene-kit back to the lab.”

            Detective Johnny Hamilton nodded, and looked down at the old snub nose lying in the center of an enormous blood stain.

            “He put up one hell of a fight, Sal, so there’s got to be prints and I want this place covered until I choke from the dust, you hear me?” Johnny said as he turned his gaze to the disheveled living room he’d broken into after not getting an answer to his repeated knocks on the door. “Listen, Maggie’s been sitting downstairs for almost an hour so I got to take her home, but I’m heading to the house right after I drop her off and I want some answers by the time I get there.”

            The street outside of Boyd Castanet’s apartment was littered with double-parked police cars and emergency vehicles and Johnny barely nodded to the throng of officers as he pushed his way through to his car.

            “Maggie I’m sorry it took so…”

            “Johnny what happened? Is Boyd really dead?” Maggie cut him off with.

            “We don’t know anything for sure, Maggie, but he’s gone and there’s just too much blood so I’m thinking the worst.” He answered as he slapped the blue light to his roof over the door and pulled away from the curb.

            “Oh my God, Johnny. Could it have anything to do with what happened earlier?”

            “Boyd always taught me there’s no such a thing as coincidence, so that’s where my mind is right now, yes.”

            “But if someone wanted to kill him why didn’t they just finish the job when his gun exploded? Why wait until he’s out of the hospital and back home?”

            “Damn, Maggie, I just don’t know. Maybe something scared the perp off back at that shop. Guy could have hung around at the hospital and followed him home. But the door was locked and Boyd’s got enough alarms on those windows to keep a bank president happy so I can't figure how the skell got in.”

            “Boyd must have let him in then.”

            “Nah, you know Boyd, Maggie. I practically have to memorize a password before he lets me in, so he’s not opening up for some stranger in the hallway. Funny thing, I can't find his harmonica anywhere either. You know he doesn’t go anywhere without that god awful noisemaker, so what the hell is going on?”

#

            “Tell me you’ve got something, Lou.”

            “Sit down, Johnny.” Lieutenant Haley offered to the agitated young detective who’d barged into his office. “The labs breaking records here, and they tell me the blood was all Boyd’s and no one else’s.”

            “Prints? I told Sal we needed prints and pronto…”

            “The cleaning Lady was just in yesterday, so most of Boyd’s apartment is spotless. Smudges we can't identify, but all of the clear ones and even the partials are all his.”

            “Spotless my ass, Lou, the place was trashed. The sofa was turned over, lamps knocked down, even the TV was smashed, so how could there be no prints?”

            “Johnny, the rest of the apartment was clean, okay? You were inside and did you see even one footprint anywhere in all that blood? A palm print on the wall or the coffee table? And while we’re at it, where’d the bullets go? CSI tells me Boyd got off three so where’d they disappear to? You think maybe he shot himself and the skell dragged both him and the slugs away? So listen, you’re not the only one trying to figure all this out, okay?”

            “Sure, Lou, sure. What’s up on the owners of that tattoo parlor?” Johnny asked after taking a moment to compose himself.

            “Carl Woolf, DOA at the scene, he’s the one Boyd spotted getting the shiv. And it gets better. After Fleming got no answer, the C of D rousted a judge for a warrant and I had tactical break into Woolfs apartment and they found his brother,” Haley paused as he rummaged through a stack of papers on his desk. “Jason, they found his brother as carved up as he was. Another DOA, and prelim from CSI says it’s probably the same weapon killed both of them.”

            “Robbery gone sour?”

            “Not unless they were after something other than money, Johnny. Cash bag was in the safe under the register and it was loaded with tens and twenties, over six hundred dollars in all.”

            “None of this makes any sense, Lou. If it wasn’t a robbery then it had to be a revenge hit, and what is a sleazy tattoo house doing with a bag full of money? Business so good that the after-hours night drop has that kind of green lying around? And how does Boyd figure into any of this?”

            “Maybe the Woolf brothers were selling more than Yak-Hair tattoos, Johnny. Wouldn’t be the first seemingly honest establishment that was just a front for dope or a fencing operation. And as far as Boyd goes, look kid, including transit and corrections there are almost fifty thousand cops in this city. By daybreak every last one of them will have a picture of Boyd and nobody gets away with bagging a cop, nobody. But you’re right that it doesn’t figure because none of the mobs, Italian, Russian, Chinese or even the damned Columbians would kidnap a cop, and that tells me we’ve got out-of-towners or amateurs. Either way, we’ll get who did this, but for now I want you to go home and sleep because you look like crap and we’ll all be pulling 24/7’s starting tomorrow.”

#

            The human body is some piece of work, ya know. I mean, the funny little guy must have sliced me from here to Sunday and I didn’t feel a thing. Strong little bastard too, damn. He just walked on up to me with that frickin Bowie knife and even after I capped three slugs into him he still tosses me around like a sack of potatoes.

            And somebody turned off the lights. That or I was blind, but I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. What time was it? How long was I lying here…wait, it was probably the hospital again. Triple friggin damn, Johnny probably came back from his trip and hauled me off to the doc shop and now I owed the kid even more. Like I said, nice kid but it made me feel even more like a helpless old dinosaur. One good thing. Maybe I couldn’t see or move for squat, but I could still feel my harmonica in my left hand, and that gave me a chuckle. Kid packs me into the car and doesn’t forget the harmonica. Gotta love him.

            Tired. So tired. Couldn’t hurt to sleep. Maybe I should.

 

[ end ]

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