– 1 –
Officer Harris’ lips twisted upward, parting half an inch and revealing spittle-coated, gleaming teeth. Above that warped grin, his brown eyes danced, the left one flicking to the side repeatedly, giving it the impression of wobbling in the socket.
“You like that? That’ll teach you, stinkin’ up the place.” His voice was hoarse, sensual; his tone was one reserved for bedrooms adorned with velvet and candles. There might have been a more out-of-place spot to hear it than the dingy passthrough between the 8th Street tenement buildings, something odder to reflect the faint echo than dumpsters, dilapidated fire escapes and the detritus — human and otherwise — that gathered in such places, but it was unlikely.
He lunged forward and lashed out again with the nightstick, driving the battered bit of wood with it’s aluminum core into the ribcage of the bit of trash in front of him. The rotter groaned again, his rancid breath spilling over shattered teeth and split lips in a harsh exhalation. Harris’ grin widened, even as he fought his gag reflex.
Goddamn things stink worse than the bodies we fish out of the Hudson, he thought as he grabbed hold of the rot’s collar — the filthy remains of what had probably begun life as a nice white shirt with black buttons, perhaps scavenged from a boneyard or the trash pile of a jilted wife — and yanked him forward. “Yeah? Like it, deadboy?”
The rot had been fairly young when he turned, from the look of him. The eyes were wide and blue, the whites only lightly yellowed by death and the flesh around them free of wrinkles. The cheeks still had the scars of his last crop of adolescent acne, the mouth was still full and pouty — barring Harris’ handiwork, that had split his lips and broken most of his front teeth off at the gumline — more feminine or childish than not. Only the deep groove just above his right eye and the crater in the skull just beyond it — giving Harris a glimpse of the dead gray matter that still tried to pulse underneath — gave away what the little bastard really was. That and the smell; Harris had always prided himself on his sense of smell, and this little punk reeked of rotter to him; sweet and rancid at the same time, like raw pork left in a Coke can.
The thing tried to shake its head, producing several crackling noises from somewhere in its neck; apparently the head wound hadn’t been all that was done to the little shit before he turned cannibal. Harris tightened his grip on the thing’s shirt, bunching a wad of the once-expensive cloth into his fist and shook it again.
“Did I give you permission to move, deadboy?”
Harris dropped the nightstick and belted the thing across the mouth, prompting another splash of blood. Longtime practice of this particular motion had taught him to lean back and to the side to avoid the spray. When he saw the thing’s chest heave, as though it was about to do something really dumb — like try to scream — Harris drove his knee into its stomach, provoking a fit of retching and coughing.
Pulling his body back a half step, he glanced along the passthrough in each direction, making sure he remained unobserved. To the south he saw the tall, gangly shadow of Freeman, who seemed to notice he was being watched; he tipped his hat and nodded slightly to Harris before lighting a cigarette. Just a cop taking a smoke break.
Twenty feet in the other direction, watching the north entrance — not that there was much of a chance of being disturbed from that direction, given that it only led to the trash access for the apartment complex — was Stead, arms crossed over his meaty chest and watching Harris and their playmate with candid interest.
Nodding to himself, Harris turned his attention back to the rot in front of him.
“Yeah, don’t bother screaming. You’ll wake all the wee little babies and the daddies sleeping it off, and we wouldn’t want that.” He released his grip on the rot’s collar and patted the thing’s neck. Tenderly, almost consolingly, even though his flesh was crawling and the touch made him want to gag despite the thick black gloves he wore.
“Now. Know what you did wrong, yet?”
The rot glanced up, faint hope in its eyes. Harris loved that best of all: seeing them hear his soothing voice, maybe thinking they were going to get out of this with nothing more than a thrashing and some verbal abuse. Thinking that maybe, just maybe, it’s just some lifeists having a bit of sport. They never did, of course, Harris always saw to it even if Freeman or Stead backed off, but dangling the hope of escape in front of them, making them think it was real and yanking it away… that’s what made the game worth it.
The rot was still quiet, so Harris bent a little at the knees to bring himself into its line of sight, still stroking the thing’s neck with that heavy, comforting hand. “Come on. I know you can talk, heard you just fine up the street.”
It licked its lips — Harris had to repress a shudder, as he thought of what that must taste like, the tongue going over clotted blood that had been dead even before it leaked through the remains of the lips and teeth, picking up salt, maggots or worse as it trailed across — and tried for its voice. Sounding pained and out of breath, it still managed.
“Asked the wrong guy for change.” It cast its eyes downward, looking for all the world like a dog that knows it’s been caught in the trashcan.
Harris’ smile widened, as he tightened his grip on the thing’s neck. His thumb and forefinger dug into the bundle of nerves right below the ear, making the thing try to pull back involuntarily. After a moment, Harris loosened his hand again and raised a brow.
“What was that? Didn’t quite hear you, kiddo.” His voice had grown thicker still, his breath hitching with revulsion and excitement. If the rot bothered to cast its eyes downward, it would probably realize just how excited Harris was — felt like he was getting a pretty good pup-tent going down there — and how unlikely it was to get away, but Harris didn’t find it in himself to care.
The rot, apparently a quiz-kid when it was still alive, coughed up the answer Harris had been looking for.
“Asked you for change. Sir.” The eyes were still downcast, the shoulders slumped as much as they could be given the odd boneless feel of the thing’s neck and Harris’ grip. Harris found this somewhat disheartening. The breaking was what mattered, and this poor bastard was almost completely broken already.
Oh well. Let’s wrap it up.
Out loud he said: “That’s better. And you know what the penalty for that particular crime is?” Raising his free hand, he twirled his wrist and gave a quick, sharp whistle over his lower teeth. Stead and Freeman started trotting towards him, nightsticks at the ready.
The rotter, apparently seeing where this was going, stopped trying to hold his head up and let it fall forward to his chest. “No. Sir.”
Freeman caught this as he slid up next to Harris, his ebony skin and dark uniform making him hard to pick out in the shadows of the alley. Harris was only certain of the other man’s position when he chuckled, a deep rumble that seemed out of place coming from the tall and willowy officer by his side. “Learns quick, doesn’t he?” he quipped.
Stead had joined them, spitting a thick brown stream of tobacco into the rot’s face. “Mayhap. Sometimes you can teach ‘em. Like a dog, or a retard.”
Another chuckle from Freeman, as he limbered up his swinging arm and gave the rot a wallop in the kidneys. Harris found that his excitement was still to be found, jutting upward with a painful immediacy that his wife would have been gratified to witness if she had been there; seeing the rot’s face crumple under Freeman’s blow was better treatment than the tricks the gals in Tijuana had taught him in the summer of ’58.
He stepped back, intending to give Stead some room to land a few blows of his own. He always made sure the job was done, and he always picked the marks, but the middle was his two compadres, every time. Partly because he liked to watch, but mostly so they couldn’t finger him and claim it was all his doing; too many of the bastards in IA were digging into rot violence lately. Harris wasn’t overly concerned — friends in high places were useful to cultivate, and Harris had held to that credo through the entirety of his twenty years with the NYPD — but it never hurt to cover your ass, just in case.
Stead’s first strike bounced off the rot’s cheek, shattering the bone and sending his eye slumping down the ruins of his face. Freeman was rearing back for another swing when another voice came to them.
“NYPD! Stop what you’re doing, drop your weapons, and turn to me with your hands up!”
Fuck me sideways.
– 2 –
Detective Morrison had known something was up when he spotted Freeman feigning nonchalance as he rummaged in his pockets and produced a cigarette. The slight incline of the cop’s head, the tip of the hat seemingly directed at someone or something in the access road between the dingy apartment buildings, the way Freeman’s eyes kept shifting back to the alley rather than the usual vacant smoker’s stare at everything and nothing… they all added up to trouble.
Morrison knew Freeman by sight — the idiots he hung around with too, usually Harris and Stead, sometimes Valenti or Gorman — and by reputation. Why shouldn’t he? Being one of the first members of the department to be placed in a mixed-status partnership, he liked to keep abreast of what was going on in the deader community, and IA had approached him with a warning to keep an eye out for this bunch. Excessive force complaints, a few too many witnesses dropping off the face of the earth, five — or ten, or twenty — redeads on their beat in timeframes where there were only one or two everywhere else; it all added up to bad news.
Morrison hadn’t been looking for them — or trouble — tonight, though; he’d just been looking to grab a bite to eat. Russel’s Diner, almost universally regarded as the worst possible place to eat in this neighborhood, was a favorite hangout. He wasn’t turned off by the fact that Russel hired deaders, or the fact that it was on the edge of the Rotten Apple. Russel and his crew still made the best Crab Louie sandwich Morrison had ever tasted, and it was close to Marin’s apartment, making it a convenient spot to hit up when dropping off or picking up his partner.
As he did most nights, after dropping Marin off and making sure he took his pills — Marin was a good cop, a great cop even, but tended to get so wrapped up in his work that he forgot little things like eating, keeping his prescriptions current or changing out the bandages under his glasses — Morrison had stopped in for his usual, then headed down the street and back to his car. Seeing the one thing — and not seeing something else — he’d known his plans for a beer and some light reading before bed were going to be buried in paperwork.
He’d seen Freeman, pretending like he was just grabbing a smoke… but he hadn’t seen Alan, who was something of a local fixture. Poor kid had gotten turned early, infected and then killed by a stray bullet during a gang bust gone wrong; between the damage inflicted by his death and what he was, he wasn’t able to hold a job for long. When he was between jobs, Alan tended to lurk outside of Russel’s, doing odd jobs and panhandling. Morrison usually had his leftovers and a few bucks — or a ride to the drunk tank, where the kid could at least lie down for a bit — ready for him.
Morrison set his jaw and pulled the snap-strap off his pistol, sliding along the side of one of the buildings and making for the trash access that serviced both the apartments and Russel’s; whatever was going on in that alley, coming directly at Freeman seemed like an excellent choice to end up with nothing but paperwork and smoke.
When he got to the other side and saw another of the usual suspects — Stead, he thought, but from the back it might have been Valenti; both men had squat, square frames and walked like elephants, making it hard to tell them apart — waddling towards a third cop who seemed to be shaking down a suspect beside the dumpsters.
Well, well, well. The gang’s all here. The thick shadows cast down into the pass-through made it difficult to be completely certain, but the build and movements, familiar grandiose gestures seen in the halls of Precinct 13 of the NYPD, suggested Harris. Suspect #1 on IA’s meager attempts to clean up some of the lifest bullshit infesting the department. Muttering to himself, complaining about the dimwit that had decided to put the light fixture just above the fire escape ladder so it cast those long shadows, Morrison drew his gun and moved in, catching sight of the nightsticks being drawn a moment before they began crashing into the victim’s body.
“NYPD! Stop what you’re doing, drop your weapons, and turn towards me with your hands up!”
Morrison was a long veteran of dingy bars and late nights with only a bottle of Jack and a pack of Kools for company; while it played hell with sleep and gave him a nasty ratcheting cough in the mornings, it had become useful as an intimidation tool by roughening his voice, giving it the texture of a cement grinder. The man he thought was Harris released his grip on the victim’s shoulder, taking a step back and raising his hands; Freeman opted to get one more blow in, the nightstick’s wood veneer shattering and raining on the cracked pavement before he dropped what was left and turned to face his accuser, his white teeth gleaming brilliantly in the dark. Stead-or-Valenti froze, still five feet from the victim, and put his hands up, dropping the nightstick but not turning.
The voice providing a positive ID, Harris called out: “Easy, there, brother. We were just apprehending a suspect! Come a little closer, we can swap numbers and everything will be just fine.”
Morrison hated the snake-oil salesman tone in Harris’ voice; the subtle texture of lust and rage just beneath it were even worse.
Christ, no wonder we’ve got problems with sickos like this on the force, he thought as he advanced, gun still pointed at Stead-or-Valenti’s back. When he reached the fat man, Morrison used his free hand to spin him around, nodding. “Stead. Figures.” He gave him a dismissive shove, his lips quirking in a smile as Stead hit the crumbling brick of the building, farted loudly, and shrieked. Morrison dismissed him; he kept his eyes — and .45 — trained on Harris.
“Detaining a suspect, huh? Looks pretty well detained to me. And you,” Morrison locked eyes on Freeman. “Drop the best-pals grin, you lifest sack of shit. Think I didn’t see you break your billy on his kneecap? Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with you?”
Keeping one eye on Harris and Freeman, he chanced a look to the side at the one they’d been beating on. He winced internally, as even a brief appraisal of the damage looked near-fatal.
It was Alan, or had been; hard to tell when a deader was still at it, especially when they were beat-to-shit and leaned against a wall with their head lolling bonelessly while blood and pus leaked out of them. Shuffling a couple feet to the side, Morrison hunkered and got his free arm under Alan’s neck, trying to lift him up.
“Jesus, Alan. C’mon, upsy-daisy. We’ll get you some help.”
He’d glanced away for a moment while he set his weight, but the soft scrape of shoes on pavement brought his attention back to the dirty cops in time to see Harris’ head jerk in his direction. Lurching back and giving a half-pivot, Morrison was left half-deaf but still alive as Stead put a bullet in the dumpster Morrison had been crouched in front of a moment before. Fat, lazy and lifeist the man might be, but he was also a crack shot.
Not giving himself time to think — it probably would have gotten both Alan and himself killed, as well as conjuring nightmare images of the paperwork Marin would be filing on his behalf for the shooting — Morrison jerked his right hand to the side and squeezed the trigger, aiming low.
Stead’s earlier shriek of fright when he’d mistaken his own fart for an attack was nothing compared to the sound that burst out of him when his shin exploded. That Morrison could hear it at all after two gunshots in a tight space was pretty impressive. Stead dropped, scrabbling at his wounded leg, screaming all the while.
Releasing his grip on Alan as gently as he could, Morrison turned his gun towards Harris and Freeman as he rose up. “Either of you dipshits want some?”
– 3 –
Alan was floating in a haze of semi-consciousness, only partially aware when the big man in the cream coat with the deep voice interrupted the beating. When the beanpole officer brought his club down on Alan’s knee, shattering both bone and billyclub, holding on to that small shred of awareness became a Herculean effort; he didn’t even have the air or will to try to scream as he slumped against the dumpster.
What followed felt like a stream of still photos, interrupted by five-second gaps every time his heavy eyelids shuttered down; the new guy — that part of Alan now recognized as another cop, the one that always had a scrap of food or a couple bucks for him — shoving the fat one against the wall; the cop trying to help him up, while Alan’s own muscles refused to cooperate; the ringleader, the one who stank of cheap cigars and dirty, stale sweat, gesturing; the fat one being shot.
When the helpful cop set Alan back down to deal with his brothers in blue, Alan’s head knocked against the dumpster. Following Murphy’s Law, a bright flash of pain tore through his head as the exposed nerves in the crater that had been his head until some over zealous little big had started taking potshots were abraded against the rusty green metal of the trash bin. The pain, greater than but different than the waves radiating from his shattered kneecap and broken ribs, brought things back into focus, removing the shutterstop effect from his vision and casting everything into bright relief despite the deep shadows.
He heard the do-gooder say something, catching only the last word, then saw him turn the gun on the two bastards who were still standing. The beanpole put his hands up, taking a step back. Alan didn’t quite believe the surrender; maybe it was just the dull ember of hate that was pulsing in his chest, maybe the probable concussion, or maybe that disquieting smile that the skinny one was still wearing, but it didn’t quite feel right.
The ringleader, though… he didn’t appear impressed. He shot a brow up, twitched the corners of his mouth in a smile that appeared about as genuine as a three-dollar bill to Alan, and cocked his head to one side.
“What, gonna shoot us all, Morrison? Sure that’ll go over real well. Fuckin’ deadhead, shootin’ another cop over a goddamn rot.”
Morrison took another step towards the ringleader, and while Alan didn’t see any fear in that move, he thought the slumped shoulders, stubble and downcast eyes meant the hero cop was more than a little tired. Exhausted, really. He wanted to warn him — Alan could see the other man tensing on his feet, ready to pounce — but his throat muscles didn’t want to work, the damage inflicted by the beating and the odd angle of his head making it hard to draw air. He stretched his fingers out to the side, crawling them across the pavement he lay on, looking for something.
“Well, Harris. Funny thing about my definition of cop. It doesn’t include lifeist bullshit.” Morrison smirked, angling his gun downward for a moment. “Besides, I doubt the department shrinks’d be too happy to hear you get your jollies beatin’ on panhandlers.”
“Only the ones who don’t know to respect me,” Harris rumbled, making his move. While Morrison had been gesturing at one piece of “equipment,” Harris had pulled a snub-nose .38 from under his shoulder, quicker than Alan would have believed; it was a hideously ugly thing, nickel-plated and wide-barreled. Inelegant and cheap, it looked like a toy manufactured in Taiwan, but it didn’t have to look good for it to do what it needed to.
Alan’s questing fingers had found what he wanted. As Morrison and Harris brought their weapons up, Alan twisted his wrist, flicking the metal core of the skinny cop’s nightstick with as much force as he could muster. He didn’t think it’d do any damage — his aim was shot, he didn’t have a good angle, and he was starting to have double vision — but he hoped at least to distract the one called Harris long enough to prevent Morrison from getting shot. Morrison was good people, stepping in when a lot of others would have walked on by — or worse, joined in — and didn’t deserve to get shot for him.
The chunk of aluminum sailed across the alley, spinning in the air like a fan-blade, and caught Harris in the shoulder just as the man fired. It didn’t look like it hurt much, but it was enough to throw his aim off. Sparks flew from the blacktop just behind and to the left of Morrison, who didn’t waste any time.
Holding his gun in both hands, his grip appearing calm and steady, Morrison returned fire. Alan swore he could see fire come from the barrel of the big man’s weapon, then stopped believing what he was seeing.
Harris began to shriek, his voice no longer deep and velvety, but high and shrieking. The sound was like listening to farm animals being slaughtered, sheep being led up the ramp; Alan saw both of Harris’ hands go to his crotch, but there was no crotch left to speak of.
Morrison’s .45 had destroyed the spot between Harris’ legs, leaving bloody drapes of blue fabric and flesh. As Harris crumpled to his knees, his shrieks tapering off as he ran out of air and neglected to take another breath, the skinny cop apparently decided he wanted no more of this. He bolted, hollering for help.
Morrison took a shuddering breath, holstering his weapon and moving towards Alan. “You’re gonna be alright, buddy. Okay? Gonna be okay.” While Alan didn’t quite believe the tone — it sounded more like Morrison was attempting to convince himself than anyone else, and his voice was quivering with shock — he appreciated the sentiment. He managed to bring his arm up and take hold of Morrison’s shoulder. With a grunt of effort, Morrison hoisted him up and got him leaning against the wall — taking the weight off his nonexistent knee and putting him in a position where his oddly-angled head wouldn’t be scraping the old wound.
Alan greyed out again, but saw Morrison start towards the mouth of the alley, bugling out cries for assistance, officer down. The fat bastard seemed to have fainted; the ringleader was facedown on the pavement, hands still clasped between his knees. Alan was fairly certain that one was dead.
Good. Darkness came for Alan then, and he welcomed it.
– 4 –
Morrison sat in the sterile hallway outside of the Internal Affairs Commission office, staring placidly at the white walls and trying not to fidget too much — the chairs were newer, plastic and metal abominations designed to squeeze your guts and turn your ass numb no matter how you tried to sit in them — while he waited.
IA had been alerted almost immediately after paramedics had arrived, summoned by the sounds of gunfire. While Stead and Alan were hustled off to Mother of Mercy, that new hospital complex — and Harris was being zipped into an oversized black plastic duffel bag — the responding officers had confiscated Morrison’s badge and weapon and put the cuffs on him. He thought he’d detected a note of sympathy in Barkowski’s eyes, but neither Barkowski or O’Banion had much to say to him. He didn’t expect them to, really.
He just hoped they found Marin a good partner. He was finished and he knew it, but didn’t think that was a reason to punish Marin. The odds weren’t good, though. At least half the boys in the precinct were members of the Order of Life, and most of the rest at least sympathized.
“Fuck,” he muttered as he covered his face with his hands.
Morrison didn’t glance up at the sound of footsteps, though he processed them. Sharp clicks, like a woman’s heels or very expensive men’s dress shoes. Evenly spaced, coming towards him. The sound stopped in front of him, and Morrison saw a pair of skinny legs clad in expensive looking slacks with a razor-crease through the gap in his fingers. Still, he remained quiet and still.
“Detective Morrison?” The voice was dry, somewhat dusty. Reminded Morrison of the accountants that worked down in fraud. No real emotional inflection in it. He sighed, raising his head to look up at the owner of the voice.
It was quite a reach; Morrison guessed the guy had to be at least six-six, all of him as skeletal as the broomsticks that served as the apparition’s legs. The face was severe, hard angles with pallid skin stretched tight across it. A single thin wisp of snow-white hair was slicked down atop the head, and the eyes, swimming behind thick rimless spectacles, were so light a blue they almost appeared to be white themselves. Morrison hadn’t had many dealings with the alphabet-soup agencies, but the man’s appearance, manner of moving, and dead-fish eyes practically screamed spook.
Morrison grunted, shaking his head. “Not for long.”
The spook smiled — at least, his mouth turned upward, revealing a line of perfectly straight, economic and startlingly white teeth — and extended his hand, holding out a thick manilla envelope with Morrison’s name written across it in thick black marker. “That remains to be seen. Certain parties would prefer to keep it so.”
Morrison reached for the envelope, arching his brow. “What’s this? Cream to keep my mouth shut?” If that’s what it was, he knew exactly where the spook could put it. He didn’t take cream; despised those who did. Yet another reason he was unpopular with his erstwhile brothers in blue. He worked his finger under the flap and started to worry the envelope open.
The spook raised a hand and rolled his eyes. “Please; my employers don’t believe in such things. The contents of that envelope, however, may resolve your current difficulties. Open it once I’ve gone. We’ll speak again.”
Without waiting for confirmation, the spook started away, fading down the hall the same way he had come, with sharp and measured clicking of his heels on the gray tile floor.
Morrison grunted, popping open the envelope and sliding out the top sheet of paper he found inside. Scanning it over, his eyes widened.
“Hoool-eee shit,” he whispered.
As though on cue, the door to the interview chamber popped open, and O’Banion’s round, flushed face and crop of carrot-colored hair peeped out. “Detective Morrison? We’re ready for you, now.”
Morrison resealed the envelope and stood, following O’Banion into the interview room to face the music… but thinking that he had the conductor’s baton and could change the tempo, now.